Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2096

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (17:26): There are few people who inspire us to the level that Nelson Mandela has done. The contribution that an individual makes to society and to the global community in which we all live is something he will be remembered for, but also the circumstances that built his character as a man, a leader and an individual. Last week the world community lost one of its greatest leaders, a pioneer and an advocate for peace, unity, equality and peer recognition. The death of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's President from 1994 to 1999 has struck a chord with individuals and leaders from all walks of life. In death as in life, Mandela commands the respect of the world stage.

Fifty-nine world leaders are making the trek to South Africa to pay their respects to the man, and to the unity and forgiveness that was his life's work. Occasionally in life the world gives birth to a great leader. Mandela was one of those few exceptional men who rose above the fray to transition from countryman to world elder, a unifying figure not only for South Africans but for many throughout the world. Mandela is best known for his work as a civil rights activist, a world leader and an author.

Mandela stands to be known as one of the world's most pre-eminent symbols of peace. In 1993, Mandela was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize with the then South African President Fredrik Willem de Klerk for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundation of a new democratic South Africa. In 1942, Mandela joined the African National Congress and for 20 years directed a campaign of peaceful nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.

Mandela like Gandhi had a unique and extraordinary capacity to forgive. I am always struck by the way both men used peace and unity. They used unity in a passive sense by bringing to the fore their message in respect of seeking freedom for the nations of their people and at the same time building an ethos of forgiveness and directing people on a journey towards unity for their nations. It is a unique quality that transcends the politics and the strengths of those individuals to make a difference in blending together the vision for their nations. The way they went about that is a character of strength and something I admire. I often use their words when I deliver my addresses because they are pertinent to the way they delivered their message. They are salient and go to the crux of what their society was and what their vision was for all of those around them, the people of their nations.

In spite of the terrible atrocities levelled against him, he was able to channel his experiences into a strategy to bring together all men and women in South Africa. As Mandela was known to say, 'Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.' There were few who were as passionate as Mandela to achieve peace and freedom in South Africa. Mandela saw his life's objective as achieving unity and quality for all South Africans. He was known to say:

During my lifetime 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 with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Not once did Mandela's vision for his nation falter, which is a remarkable achievement for any world leader. In total, Mandela spent 27 years in incarceration for his political offences. He was charged due to his efforts to end apartheid, particularly because of his involvement with the African National Congress. Despite the incredible hate that was thrust upon him during these years and the perceived insurmountable challenges in pursuing peace in South Africa, Mandela chose to pursue peace and reconciliation. We remember the image of him walking free into a country that had once jailed him and his first speech when he returned home. It was not about bitterness, it was not about retribution, it was not about revenge; it was about the fact that he wanted to unify a country that could become a great nation, in which people of differing opinions could walk together and deliver a future that augured well for the generations to come.

Mandela was empowered by the very process that sought to disempower him and his efforts towards reconciliation. He said after his release:

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

He certainly achieved that. The approach towards partnership was the one that marked Mandela's presidency. His legacy and key objective was national reconciliation. He retained his integrity throughout the trials and tribulations he faced, and he did not compromise his beliefs in order to make the journey easier.

Nelson Mandela's achievements are considered all the more remarkable in the light of his previous history. When he was just nine years old his father lost his life to lung cancer, initiating a time of great change for him. Nelson Mandela's extraordinary background began long before he was incarcerated. Mandela was the first in his family to attend school and in spite of a difficult childhood he made the most of his opportunities. Mandela was given the opportunity to study at the Wesleyan mission school, the Clarkebury Boarding Institute, and the Wesleyan college where he solidified his understanding that success was achieved through hard work. Later Mandela studied at the University of Fort Hare, preparing for a career in the civil service as a clerk. After working in law firms and passing exams to become a qualified attorney at law, Mandela, together with his university peer and friend Oliver Tambo, opened the first solely African-run law firm in South Africa, where he provided legal advice and support to those who could not afford to access the legal systems of South Africa. In an interview this morning the grandson of his friend spoke openly of the friendship that the two had and the work that they did together to bring about the changes required to move from an oppressive regime to the Africa we see today.

The impact of education on Mandela's own life is no doubt where his passion for education came from. Mandela believed that education was 'the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world'—and in fact to change the society in which you live. He credited much of what was achieved in South Africa and elsewhere around the world to education. Nelson Mandela identified that the key to all change was education. It unlocks our ability to achieve our destiny and effect lasting differences. It is a vehicle through which he was able to promote peace and unity.

Nelson Mandela did not stop with achieving democracy in South Africa. Instead, he used his experience to urge other nations to overcome conflict and internal destruction through reconciliation, democracy and diplomacy. One of Nelson Mandela's greatest achievements came after his retirement from South African politics. He used his position to bring together world leaders to effect lasting change across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Nelson Mandela convened a group appropriately titled The Elders, which included such individuals as Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Li Zhaoxing and Mohammed Younis. The Elders promoted peace and women's equality as well as developing initiatives to end human rights atrocities and to address the humanitarian crises that existed in various places in the world.

I am proud that leaders of both sides of Australian politics will be showing their respect by attending memorial services for Nelson Mandela. The ideological and symbolic change that Nelson Mandela achieved in South Africa is a contemporary issue that we in Australia are still reconciling. It is an issue on which we look to all sides of politics to unify in order to achieve this change. As Nelson Mandela himself said:

Success in politics demands that you must take your people into confidence about your views and state them very clearly, very politely, very calmly, but nevertheless state them openly.

These same principles are the ones that are needed in our own journey towards reconciliation. Just as Mandela took South Africans into his confidence to share his vision, so too must we as Australian leaders take all Australians into our confidence and state our vision for a united Australia. We members of the Australian parliament must bring all Australians together on a journey to better understand each other. Only by taking this journey together will we be able to achieve lasting reconciliation for Australia.

In closing, I will use Nelson Mandela's own words to encourage us in Australia's journey towards unity:

Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow our fear to stand in the way.

May we never let our fear stand in the way of achieving a stronger, more united Australia. Let us hope that the vision that has been imparted to us not only by him but by leaders within Australia becomes a basis from which we take the next stage of the journey that we have, that we achieve a country of greatness and of unity—a country in which all are part of the vision for the country but where we also stand as equals in the way we integrate and accept each other's ideas. Let us hope to show the passion for the future as Mandela did for Africa, as he did for the global community, for which he gained respect and acknowledgement for having the forgiveness to forge a way where all walk as equals.