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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2099

Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (17:42): I can only echo the remarks that have been made by other members. Nelson Mandela was a great individual. He will be remembered as one of the great individuals of the 20th century, someone who fought for civil rights in the same way that Gandhi and Martin Luther King did. It seems incredible, but when Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 there had been no images of him for 20 years. The photos used for stamps were taken from his trial in the 1960s. Younger people might not even remember the period when South African sporting teams did not compete internationally for 20 years. A number of Australian cricketers went on rebel tours of South Africa, but, under the Gleneagles Agreement, for 20 years South Africa was an international pariah in the sporting world.

I had the opportunity to work in South Africa in late 1989 and early 1990. I worked in a hospital in KwaZulu, then a non-independent homeland. It was an interesting time. In 1989 the previous president of South Africa, Mr Botha, had been replaced by FW de Klerk, the Berlin Wall had come down and some members of the ANC had been released but not Mandela. It was obvious that the system of apartheid was unsustainable and that South Africa had really been held back by the way that it had had sanctions imposed on it by countries around the world. Although many elements of apartheid were by then illegal, I do remember being in the Northern Transvaal and seeing the signs in banks saying 'Europeans only' at a time when that was no longer allowed. I remember staying with a family on 2 February 1990 when the news came that President de Klerk had decided to remove the remaining pillars of apartheid by unbanning the ANC. He subsequently released Nelson Mandela. This was something that this family welcomed but it took their breath away; they had not expected it so soon.

I also distinctly remember when Mandela became president in April 1994. I heard his acceptance speech on the ABC; it was absolutely electrifying. I am pretty sure that I was late for work that day; I just stopped the car and listened to Mandela's acceptance speech. When you consider how South Africa could have gone, and when you compare the path that South Africa has taken with that of Zimbabwe, you see how important Mandela's approach has been—the way he was able to forgive but not forget, the enormous grace he showed, and the way he was always prepared to build a bridge with people who had previously been violently opposed to him.

In closing I wanted to repeat the words he gave almost 50 years ago in his Rivonia trial speech: '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.' They were his words; they were words he always lived by. The world and South Africa are better places for him.