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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 526

Senator CHAMARETTE (5.41 p.m.) —I welcome this opportunity, on behalf of the Greens (WA), to make a few remarks about the historic changes which have occurred in South Africa during the last four years and which have been brought together in the joyous climax of the last few days. In recent years many countries have been given the opportunity, or have taken the opportunity, to reshape themselves or even, one could say, to reinvent themselves. Such has been the case with South Africa.

  Many in the international community have longed for and worked for the events which have taken place since the early, hesitant reforms instituted by the white government during the 1980s. Many of us waited anxiously to see whether the promises would result in genuine change. To our joy, things did begin to change. The pass laws were gone. Political organisations were taken off the banned list. Individuals who had been banned were free to move about, to speak out publicly about the hateful apartheid and to meet together.

  But, of course, nothing had the symbolic power and gripped the attention of the world as much as, firstly, the imprisonment and then, secondly, the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990. There is a real sense in which our remarks today must be a tribute to the newly elected president—or about to be elected president—of South Africa. I will come back to that.

  The South Africa which has emerged from last week's election is a new country. It has not merely undergone a change of government; it has fundamentally changed. It faces the future with a new and glorious flag and a new set of relationships both within and with the world outside. I do not think anybody can fail but be inspired by the way the anthem of this country is sung. Indeed, it could be said that it now has a relationship with the outside world as a member of the community of nations, after years as an outcast.

  That this change has come about through a process of negotiation with enormous obstacles, suspicion and potential for failure should give us hope for the possibility of change in many other places. The negotiations involved the resolution of some of the most intractable conflicts imaginable. The sharing of power by those used to absolute authority with those they had held in servitude is a rare and wonderful example of what can be achieved when few dared to hope for it.

  It is also a tribute to the central figures involved. Some have clearly acted out of necessity, and others perhaps out of fear of being left out. But others have grasped a seeming impossibility and have set their sights on justice. That is the tribute I believe we must pay to Nelson Mandela. After nearly three decades in prison, he emerged ready to take up where he had left off: with a vision of justice and what that word meant for South Africa. The personal meaning of that for me is if, instead of entering the Senate two years ago, I had gone to prison for 27 years and then come out for five years and become president—it is that kind of dimension that this man of 75 years has lived through; and it is a truly miraculous time that we now hail.

  It has been an extraordinary time during which Nelson Mandela has taken the hand of the whites and shown them the way to change. He appears to be utterly without bitterness, in spite of the treatment he has received at the hands of a system which despised him and everything he stood for. It is beyond me to conceive of the changes in South Africa without his energy, his goodwill and his commitment to justice. We must remember, too, that he is also a symbol of the many other African people who did the same in a private way that is not observable to us in Australia.

  Nelson Mandela's commitment to his vision, and that of the people he represents, demonstrates an integration of spirituality, humanity and politics which the world rarely sees. To see him dancing for joy the other day, as the results of the elections became clear, showed a man of joy in a situation which would terrify many of us.

  Regrettably, the changes have not been without cost. Countless people have been killed or injured as the old order has been gradually dismantled. That tragedy should not be ignored or simply forgotten in the joy of the last week. It reminds us that change is rarely universally welcomed and, apparently, the bigger the change the greater the reaction against it. Violence in South Africa did not come to an end with the announcement of the end of apartheid. Perhaps it will not end now. Only time will tell.

  When we look at the way the system of apartheid itself was consigned to the history books, we should not only congratulate those involved but also be encouraged that the most difficult changes in past structures can be brought about by negotiation and peaceful resolution of conflict. It is a lesson for the entire world and, none the least, for Australia as we face up to a range of seemingly intractable problems, particularly in relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

  The new South Africa now faces the daunting task of bringing about a new reality for the millions who have never known what it means to be free citizens. Even from this distance, it is a task which seems too big and too complex. The new government, led by Mr Mandela, has a clear mandate to bring about sweeping changes. But its power is not absolute. The election gave the ANC less than the two-thirds vote it needed if it wanted to re-write the new constitution alone. It is significant and a measure of the president-elect that he has said publicly that he is pleased his party is not in a position to do so because it will allay fears in some quarters that the ANC would become a dictatorial force in government. He is still not afraid of having to negotiate to achieve a satisfactory outcome, and may be signalling that he believes the constitution would be better as a result of bringing together as wide a range of people and ideas as possible. It is another lesson which people in other parts of the world could well learn.

  What, then, is our role as another member of the community of nations? How will Australia relate to the new South Africa? It is my hope that—as we played our part in putting pressure on the apartheid regime through boycotts, sanctions and other international measures—we will now assist in the emerging of the new South Africa. I know that our expertise has been offered, as has the opportunity to trade, to renew so many relationships which were put on hold over the last 20 years or so.

  But what of our generosity? Australians are very generous people with their time, their money and their goodwill. Now is the time to commit ourselves to assist in whatever ways we can. I also urge that those whose concern is trade see the new South Africa as a community of people, and not simply as another market to be exploited. I am certain that trade will continue to grow, as it has done since the sanctions and boycotts were lifted. But I would be deeply saddened if Australians were so intent on securing a financial gain that they missed the human gains which have been made and will be made.

  Senator Evans in his speech spoke about our provision of assistance to South Africa when he said:

. . . I believe there will be an important role—and opportunity—for the Australian private sector in contributing its technology and expertise, particularly in areas such as low cost housing, sanitation and safe water, health care, roads and electricity.

It is true. We have much to share. We also have much to learn, and we need to do these for our own Aboriginal people in Australia and to be in a relationship of learning mutually how to combat the problems that indigenous people suffer in their own land.

  The three major impacts on me have been the commitment to democracy, the commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict and the commitment to consensus in a political sense. I do take comfort, as a member of the Senate, in proportional representation. In a parliamentary library talk, Dr Etherington pointed out, at the 50 per cent mark of votes being counted, that had one of our major political parties had 60 per cent of the vote, the next major one 20 per cent, the next eight per cent and the next three per cent, how much would the 60 per cent party be talking to any of the others, let alone offering the one on the bottom of the list a cabinet position? I do believe there is a wisdom in wanting to share the burden of the new government of South Africa with all those who deserve a voice.

  The third and final inspiration to me is that integration of spirituality with culture that is demonstrated every time the anthem is sung. What a model of reconciliation we have, based on restoration of historical justice, removal of political oppression and the beginning of addressing the problems of social justice. It is a living example and a living model for Australia.

  With other honourable senators present here, I congratulate the people of South Africa on the changes they have made and on the way they have made them. I want to congratulate, if that is the word, Nelson Mandela for his courage and commitment, and I want to wish the new South Africa well for its future. It has taken hold of a rare opportunity and has refused to let go until a new society is brought to life.