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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1443


Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (13:46): With the death of Nelson Mandela, South Africa has lost its father and the world has lost a leader of immense moral authority. Over more than a quarter of a century of imprisonment he became the living symbol of the fight for racial equality. Over decades of negotiation and statesmanship he became the moral conscience of his nation and the world.

Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the village of Mvezo. At school he was given the name Nelson, after Lord Horatio Nelson, a fitting moniker for an individual who spent his life resisting despite overwhelming odds. In 1941, he moved to Johannesburg, where he met lifelong comrade Walter Sisulu. There he saw that racism was a virus against which many white South Africans remained immune. In 1942, Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress, the ANC. In 1943, he participated in the Alexandra bus boycott, an event that marked his transition from an aloof political observer to a leader fully engaged in the fight for racial equality.

Mandela's personal transition coincided with the political transformation underway in South Africa as Dr Malan's National Party swept to power in 1948—with it came apartheid. Apartheid was an incremental evil, a creeping menace that evolved from a series of changes in South Africa's legal and institutional architecture. It divided the nation along racial lines, denying nonwhites the right to determine where they could work and live, whom they could marry and the services they had access to. Apartheid enshrined in legislation a culture of racial superiority, entrenched the power of the Afrikaaner elite and disenfranchised the vast majority of South Africa's population.

Faced with a racist and increasingly militant state Mandela became frustrated with what he saw as the genteel politics of the ANC's old guard. And so, in 1952, he helped orchestrate the national defiance campaign, a series of strikes and protests against apartheid, supported by the South African Indian Congress. Over 8,000 volunteered for the campaign. Risking arrest, they burnt their passes, contravened curfews and occupied segregated areas. The campaign radicalised and popularised the ANC—its membership swelled to 100,000 members. The government now faced a mass movement, directed by Nelson Mandela. The defiance campaign brought Mandela to prominence and with this notoriety came the attention of the state. In 1952, Mandela was arrested and placed on a banning notice that confined him to Johannesburg.

Undeterred, Mandela's activism continued. In 1955, he helped organise the Congress of the People, where the ANC, along with the union movement, the Indian Congress and the Coloured People's Congress, adopted the Freedom Charter—to this day an important statement of the inalienable humanity of all South Africans.

Faced with an increasingly violent and intrusive police state Mandela went underground. Harried and homeless, he helped organise the fight against apartheid from a series of safe houses. Faced with the reality that passive resistance would be met with bloody brutality, Mandela helped establish the military wing of the ANC—Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation. This was done without alacrity or enthusiasm for violence but because past measures would not serve present circumstances. The pressure the Spear of the Nation applied to the nationalist government—exact and existential—was an effective means of forcing the apartheid regime to the negotiating table.

In 1962, Mandela went abroad to garner support for the ANC's cause. In August that year Mandela returned to South Africa. For a time he evaded the authorities, but he was eventually captured and charged. In November 1962 he was sentenced to prison, and so began more than a quarter of a century of detention. Along with many dissidents of his generation he was incarcerated on Robben Island where the apartheid regime hoped that Mandela and his cause would fade from view. Mandela would remain out of sight, but not out of mind.

Rather than it destroying his spirit and banishing his message, on Robben Island Mandela grew—personally and politically. He faced brutality with calm rationality, developing the ability to separate his initial emotions from his ultimate goals. Mandela and his cause were amplified in his absence, maintained in the world's collective memory by the courageous activism of those still inside South Africa like Helen Suzman and Steve Biko, and by pressure from abroad.

In 1976, the international community responded to the atrocities of Soweto by passing Resolution 134 in the United Nations Security Council. Economic, sporting and political sanctions followed. Australia, of course, played its part, beginning with Gough Whitlam, whose government supported non-racial voting in the UN General Assembly and banned South African sporting teams from touring Australia—moves that were supported by Malcolm Fraser, despite strong opposition within his own cabinet. The labour movement enforced sanctions and bans—actions that remind us of the crucial role unions can play in civil society. Prime Minister Bob Hawke galvanized the Commonwealth to fight apartheid.

Faced with crippling economic sanctions and humiliating sporting prohibitions, the apartheid regime buckled. Mandela was finally released on 2 March 1990. It was a triumphant moment. The sight of an austere but jubilant Mandela walking from the prison gates is one of the most enduring images of the 20th century.

One can be forgiven for thinking Mandela's greatness emanates solely from his prison life and presidency. But this ignores the years of negotiation after his release where he and FW de Clerk created a new country, governed by a political system in which all South Africans, irrespective of colour or creed, had a stake in its future. The Codesa conferences of 1991 and 1992 showed that he and de Clerk were willing to put the national interest ahead of personal animosity. Chris Hani's murder and Mandela's appeal for calm from the very depths of his being reassured those who still questioned his ability to govern in the interests of all South Africans.

On 9 May 1994 Mandela was elected President, winning more than 66 per cent of the vote in South Africa's first free and fair elections. As President, Mandela presided over the nation's healing through the Truth and Reconciliation Process. But in 1999, despite the pleas of his nation and party, Mandela stepped down after a single term. As a statesman, he remained a champion of justice and freedom—courageous enough to challenge his party on the issue of AIDS, brave enough to voice his opposition to the Iraq war.

Hindsight is a luxury that provides certainty and finality to events that in reality are at best tenuous and troubling. Considering the past from the vantage point of the present, it is easy to think that Mandela's triumph was an inevitable extension of history's drive toward justice; a logical end point to the arc of history. This is a comfortable view, but one that strips Mandela and his movement of its moral force and sacrifice.

At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela rose to give his greatest speech. In the dock, facing death, Mandela declared:

The whole of my life ... I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela was willing to sacrifice all for justice. The movement he came to represent prevailed in the face of a racist system designed to deny people their full humanity.

Mandela was in equal measure symbol and sinew—the embodiment and enactment of an ideal. His gift was that he understood himself intimately; his genius, that he understood the human condition with equal familiarity—its beauty and brutality, its insecurity and arrogance, its hatreds and hopes. And despite his years of confinement and the centuries of injustice meted out to his people, Mandela still believed in people's capacity to see in others a shared common humanity.

Nelson Mandela's triumph against apartheid forever changed his nation but his lasting gift to us all was his ability to recognise that reconciliation was more important than retribution and that the price of true freedom was to forgive those who denied him and his people their liberty.

The PRESIDENT: In the time leading up to question time, I remind honourable senators that the condolence book for Mr Mandela is in my walkway if they wish to sign that. I want senators to be clear it will be there for probably part of the afternoon but I cannot guarantee the total time it will be there.