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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2105

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (18:25): I rise today to speak about a great man, a man who not only inspired a nation but also inspired the world. Very few people have single-handedly had as large an impact on the world than Nelson Mandela. Born in 1918, in Transkei, South Africa, into the Thembu tribe, Nelson Mandela went on to lead one of the most extraordinary lives that we have witnessed in our time. Educated at the University College of Fort Hare, Mandela completed his law degree at the University of Witwatersrand. Not long after his graduation he joined the African National Congress to combat the apartheid policies of the ruling National Party.

These policies divided a nation, oppressed a people and led to great poverty in South Africa. Mandela's political journey was not a journey without controversy. In his early years he was a supporter of violent resistance and created a splinter group within the ANC, the Umkhonto we Sizwe, that advocated for this violence.

In 1962 he was arrested and sentenced to five years hard labour. After the ANC was outlawed by the government, Nelson Mandela was charged with plotting to overthrow the government by violence and sentenced to life in prison. He spent 27 years of his 95 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner. It was there that Nelson Mandela had a life-changing experience, an epiphany, as it were: instead of advocating violence to change his country he would advocate for peace. He would do that by demonstrating that he was prepared to forgive those people who had jailed him and who had taken his freedom. Through this forgiveness and humility, he would seek to unite his nation.

His ability to eradicate the hate that once enveloped him and his embrace of long-time political opponents led to successful reconciliation in South Africa. He was supported in this journey not only by his own country but by many right around the world. We here in Australia played a special role in that, in supporting these aims to end apartheid in South Africa. Both sides of this chamber, both Liberal and Labor, then supported investment sanctions that had, I think, a very critical impact on changing the focus of many of those in South Africa and their view on apartheid.

We were also able to honour, in our own special way, the great career and achievements of Nelson Mandela when former Prime Minister John Howard presented Nelson Mandela with an Order of Australia for his courage and strong moral leadership.

Today, in this chamber we honour—and I am sure it is echoed in many parliaments around the world—a great life. It takes a supreme sense of grace, dignity and magnanimity to offer your lifelong enemy the hand of peace and friendship. And that is what Nelson Mandela did. It is also a great achievement of President FW de Klerk to take that hand of friendship as it was offered and to unite South Africa by breaking down the apartheid barriers so that it was no longer a country divided by race and, instead, to build a new South Africa together.

Upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela won the first free election in South Africa that was open to all people. He used that opportunity to support a burgeoning new democracy and a new social order. The ANC had gone from an outlawed political organisation to the ruling party; and Nelson Mandela from a political prisoner, held in the harshest of conditions, to a political hero who was healing his nation. In 1993 Nelson Mandela was duly recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize. Although it was undoubtedly deserved, I suspect it was very little consolation for a life much of which was spent behind bars on an island, imprisoned for fighting for his political rights and the rights of his people.

While Nelson Mandela will be missed by almost everybody in this world, I think we can say, because of his huge impact, he will be most particularly missed by those closest to him—his family. He had a very large and extended family, with his wives, six children, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. To conclude, I would like to quote Nelson Mandela:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Nelson Mandela, you are finally free, and we hope you rest in peace.