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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2102


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (18:08): Nelson Mandela—what do you say? So much has already been said over recent days. This is a man whose life, over some 95 years, has traversed some of the great challenges of his country and his continent—and, in fact, the world. He faced the struggles over apartheid and the struggles, as part of that, relating to his incarceration for some 27 years. On from that, he dealt with the challenges involved in the establishment of a democratic nation, a nation that has had a very troubled history with respect to race and, with that, violence and oppression. Mandela, it was said, would say that he was an ordinary man, a simple man. In fact it is clear that he faced, as an ordinary and simple man, many complex challenges. He dealt with those challenges in a way that was, frankly, a wonder to many in the world.

Those who have been jailed, those who have been tortured, those who have been brutalised, often as a result become changed by those circumstances. Often they become in some ways tainted by their experience. In fact, it is completely understandable how they will react in a manner that is in itself often quite brutal. One of Mandela's greatest achievements was his capacity to forgive, to understand and to move beyond that oppression and provide an example for all the world with respect to how to deal with those circumstances.

As the first black president of the new democratic nation of South Africa he faced enormous challenges, challenges in relation to poverty, exploitation, race and the aftermath of the power structures that were apartheid. He would have admitted that he was not always able to meet those challenges with solutions, but he worked hard over his five years as President to move his country forward to help establish it as a free nation and as a nation where all citizens have the opportunity and the capacity and the ability to live a decent life.

The work that he did over that time is still a work in progress. I have always thought that probably one of the greatest tragedies regarding Nelson Mandela is that if only he had been released 10 or more years earlier and been in a situation where he could have become President at a younger age, his potential to have influenced modern South Africa would have been even greater.

Often described as a man of peace, there is no doubt that he embraced peaceful means; there is also no doubt that, when he felt it was necessary, as a last resort, he was prepared to take a more violent path. It was never his first choice. It was his last resort. But it was something that he was prepared to do, and I think that is something that needs to be understood.

In terms of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and how it has been described by others—he embraced white South Africa in the context of things like the Rugby World Cup. In terms of his statements to many of those who had been a part of his oppression—that he could forgive and that they had to move forward together—it showed what a great man he was. He also recognised and acknowledged always that he was not alone in what he did, that in fact he was part of a movement and that many in that movement were less famous and less celebrated, but had suffered and given much also to the cause.

I visited Robben Island several years ago, just before I attended a delegation of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee in Africa. I managed to get there a couple of days early, so I went to Robben Island. I saw his cell. I have been to the quarry where he worked. I met with former prisoners who were working there as guides and who told us what happened with guards—about the circumstances the prisoners faced—and they gave us a bit of their personal experience about what it was like to be there at that time. There was a tremendous sense of community amongst them in terms of what they talked about and a tremendous sense of a shared experience that they saw as part of what they had suffered but also what they had to move beyond. That capacity to inspire across many of compatriots, and, through that, across the entire South African community, is another significant aspect of Nelson Mandela's achievement over the years.

His experience was horrific, but his achievements as a result should be celebrated and remembered. The challenge for modern South Africa is to build on that legacy. It is a big challenge. It is a challenge for those who were his compatriots and remain in the ANC, but also within the broader South African community. I hope and I pray that the example of Nelson Mandela in all the good things that he came to represent, for the need to move South Africa forward as a great nation of the world but also for the African continent, is something that those in South Africa will remember and will learn from for the future. I believe that is this man's legacy and I believe that it is a legacy that all should live to honour and to represent in future as being the way forward for Africa.