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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2080

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (16:00): I pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and express my condolences, as so many Australians have, to Mr Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, his children and the people of South Africa. Although we all knew that Nelson Mandela was seriously ill, I was still deeply saddened when I heard of his death last Friday morning as I landed in Beijing.

Mandela was a towering figure of our time, such that I feel sure everyone will remember 6 December as the day we stopped to think of this great man and what his life meant to his country of South Africa and to the world. Mandela was truly one of the most recognised and greatest figures of the 20th century, an icon of resistance against repression who became a champion of reconciliation. Mandela will also be remembered as an advocate for human dignity, for freedom and for justice. He was truly one of the most inspirational leaders of our time: a great political leader, a courageous moral leader.

Nelson Mandela's management of South Africa's peaceful transition from apartheid is one of the 20th century's greatest displays of positive leadership. He was the person to whom many turned to look for guidance on issues of forgiveness, respect and how to make a positive individual contribution to our times. He transformed not only his country, South Africa, but also Africa and the rest of the world. Through the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s, when South Africa was a polarised, divided and rather desperate country, there seemed little chance that it could be turned into a modern democracy without first suffering through an appalling civil war. It did not seem possible that the injustices, humiliation, exploitation and deep divisions apartheid had created could ever easily be overcome.

We pinned our hopes on the sporting and economic sanctions in the hope that they might force the white regime to change its course. But, put simply, it was the towering force of one man, Nelson Mandela, which changed the destiny of South Africa. Many other people played important roles, but Mandela gave something crucial—his wisdom, his compassion and, almost unbelievably, his forgiveness—so that a peaceful transition was achieved. The people of South Africa, and indeed the world, owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for sparing the world from what could have been a tragedy if South Africa had continued down a path of racial violence into civil war.

Nelson Mandela showed black South Africans that change could be achieved through peaceful ways. He showed the white minority that they did not need to fear a new democratic South Africa. Mandela had the wisdom, the courage and the humanity to understand that peaceful change was what was needed in South Africa. Despite the long years of confinement and personal deprivation he suffered on Robben Island he was able to show enormous strength of courage. He did something we should all aspire to do: he showed forgiveness—forgiveness to the prison wardens, forgiveness to the white regime—so that South Africa could move on to a better future.

He certainly overcame many personal challenges in his life. We should not gloss over the years he spent struggling against the brutal regime in the years before his imprisonment. I think one of his most enduring quotes, and there are many, which sums up the man is:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

It was through his personal example that the rest of the country was able to forgive and come together in a peaceful way and transform South Africa into the modern, democratic country it is today.

His leadership as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 was truly inspirational. He started the process of healing the deep wounds created by decades of bitter apartheid. He showed the people of South Africa that they had more to gain by working cooperatively together. He helped to turn around the economy by reassuring the white population that they had a future in the new South Africa, which helped stem a great potential loss of capital, human capital and knowledge.

Nelson Mandela's management of South Africa's peaceful transition from apartheid is extraordinary. Despite his numerous achievements, he will be remembered foremost for his humility and his humanity. Encapsulating this, Malcolm Fraser, as the then Co-chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, recalled his first meeting with Nelson Mandela before his release from prison. Mandela's first words were, 'Mr Fraser, is Don Bradman still alive?' The Don was later to inscribe a bat to Mandela with the words 'To Nelson Mandela, in recognition of a great unfinished innings'.

Australia has a long and proud history of engagement with South Africa and support for Mr Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle. Australian welcomed Nelson Mandela to our shores in October 1990 as a true friend, and more than 100,000 people listened to his speech on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. In 1994, Mandela chose Australia as the first country outside Africa to visit as President and thank for its support in the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1999, Prime Minister John Howard honoured him with our nation's highest award, the Companion of the Order of Australia, in a ceremony at our High Commission in Pretoria in recognition of his leadership and of the example of reconciliation he and South Africa had given the world. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, Australian communities and church groups devoted themselves to his cause. Reflecting strong community sentiment at home, successive Australian governments from both major parties campaigned in international forums against the apartheid system and in support of a representative and democratic South Africa.

Nelson Mandela is considered a hero whose struggles, sacrifices and moral stature led to the election of the first truly democratic, fully representative government in South Africa. Today, despite the inequalities which remain as a result of the apartheid era, South Africa continues to embrace democratic freedoms. The economy, while facing many challenges, is relatively strong and stable. South Africa is a respected voice on the international stage, stemming in part from the high esteem with which Nelson Mandela was regarded by the international community.

Nelson Mandela will be deeply mourned and missed. He was a man who made a difference to the life of our times.