Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013


Mandela, Mr Rolihlahla (Nelson) Dalibhunga, AC

3:35 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death on 5 December 2013 of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela AC, former President of the Republic of South Africa, places on record its acknowledgement of his role in the development of the modern South African nation and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

As the people of South Africa hold a day of prayer to give thanks for the life of His Excellency Nelson Mandela, so this parliament and Senate rightly pause as well to pay tribute and give thanks for the life of a great man. As the South African people express sorrow on his passing and at the same time give thanks for his contribution to their country, we in Australia do the same not only for his leadership in South Africa but also in the world. Whilst a great ocean separates our two nations, it is the same water that laps both our shores. So it is with the sentiments that saw bipartisan support in Australia against the scourge of apartheid in solidarity with the aspirations of the people of South Africa.

Australian prime ministers of all persuasions sought to do their bit to achieve that which Mandela so masterfully achieved. On my side of politics I note the contributions—and I also note that prime ministers on the other side did similar things—of the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser and the Hon. John Howard, whose governments saw the granting of an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia to His Excellency Mr Mandela in 1999. This was something in which I was delighted to play a very small part. It was a former law professor of mine from the University of Tasmania, Professor Norman Dunbar, who suggested that we should write to then Minister Downer with that suggestion, and that correspondence was written a year before the honour was granted. The citation read:

For service to Australian-South African relations and his outstanding leadership to bring multiracial democracy to South Africa.

His walk to freedom was long, it was windy, it was full of obstructions—all of which were overcome by his resilience, his commitment and his belief in the equality of all races.

To me the greatest virtue, amongst many, of the man was his embrace of reconciliation over retribution. Another virtue, a close second, was his humility. Acknowledging his own human frailties, he fought against hagiography. He never wanted to be an icon or a saint. In his own words, he was 'just a sinner who kept on trying', which of course places him in the great biblical pantheon of the likes of Judah and King David. His willingness to reach out and acknowledge that the future of which he dreamed could be achieved without violence, without anger, without retribution was revolutionary in itself. It is because of these qualities that Nelson Mandela has rightly been described as the most significant figure of the century.

No individual life more fully embodied the grand themes and great struggles of the 20th century than that of Nelson Mandela. The story of the 20th century was that of the rise of oppressive ideologies and systems of government, the heroic struggle against oppression by millions of people throughout the world and the ultimate triumph of the ideals of liberal democracy and political equality. Nelson Mandela personified that triumph. The measure of Nelson Mandela's greatness was in the way he led his own political movement towards the path of inclusiveness and reconciliation following his release. Whilst others may have sought retribution, Mandela championed tolerance and forgiveness. In 1990, soon after his release, he famously told those who would seek to perpetuate conflict in South Africa to 'take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea!'

Nelson Mandela's influence will endure well beyond South Africa, as the values he lived are universal human virtues to which we can all aspire: courage, perseverance, humility and forgiveness. In his statement opening the defence case at the Rivonia Trial, he said:

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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my lord, if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

He was granted the great privilege of going to his maker seeing his hope fulfilled and his hope realised—something which neither Moses nor Martin Luther King Jr was granted. Generations of South Africans will forever be indebted to him, and generations world wide will glean inspiration from his example forever.

On behalf of the Australian government and the Australian people, I extend our nation's sympathy to the immediate family of His Excellency Nelson Mandela and also to his South African national family on his passing but invite them to celebrate his long life and his revered place in history, which will stand over the centuries.


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