Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013


Mandela, Mr Rolihlahla (Nelson) Dalibhunga, AC

4:03 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion. There have been a great many things said about someone who was truly great—a great leader and a great activist; a legend. The danger is, however, that we and history lose sight of the fact that Mr Mandela, as he was born, was an ordinary man who through his efforts did extraordinary things. In his humble way, he once stated:

I was not a Messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.

Whilst I agree that the    circumstances were indeed extraordinary, it was Mr Mandela's choices as an ordinary man that really made him anything but ordinary. That is the legacy that he leaves behind: believing in something and continuing to pursue those beliefs, even at an extraordinary cost to himself—and that is what made him great.

It was an ordinary man who suffered in prison on Robben Island, who must have had moments of doubt, who must have been wondering whether it was all worthwhile during what could only have been described as a lonely and desolate time in his life. As the years dragged on, he refused offers of release because they were subject to conditions that he could not accept. No doubt, like ordinary men, he would have questioned his position and whether the overall goals were worth the loss of life and uncertainty that characterised South Africa at that stage.

Born in 1918 in the Transkei region, Mr Mandela's early years were spent herding cattle. At the age of nine he moved to his uncle's home but he moved away because he did not want the destiny that others had mapped out for him and he chose an education. He was the first member of his family to go to school, and one of his teachers gave him the name, Nelson. Mr Mandela, against this background, went on to study law, qualifying in 1942. In 1944 he became part of the active resistance to apartheid after the National Party, which was dominated by white, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, came to power in 1948. His views were seen, however, as treasonable.

It should not be forgotten that Mr Mandela committed his presidency to pursuing national reconciliation, delivering a new constitution among wider legal and social reforms. Importantly, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent two years hearing the stories of those who were persecuted under the former regime and amazed the world by offering amnesties and forgiveness to those of their persecutors. As a president, Mr Mandela also had his detractors. His attempts to engage the white South African population put a number of his ANC supporters and friends offside. Mr Mandela responded to not pleasing everyone all of the time by saying, 'It helps to make you human.'

I will finish by repeating that great slogan used by Mr Mandela himself: 'The common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide.' As our nation moves towards true reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples, let us never forget the truly great examples he set as an ordinary man, in the face of adversity and difficulty that would have broken many other ordinary men. Rest in peace, 'Madiba'. You have fought a great battle on so many levels and humanity will continue to pay tribute to you into eternity.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.


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