House of Commons
Monday 9 December 2013
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Tributes to Nelson Mandela
The House will wish to know how we intend to proceed today. Defence questions will be postponed to next Monday. The present list of questions will be carried over; there will not be another shuffle. The Table Office will announce consequential changes shortly.
This is a special day for special tributes to a special statesman, Nelson Mandela. I hope that as many Members as possible will be able to contribute. Tributes may continue until 10 pm. There will be no end-of-day Adjournment debate.
The House will also wish to know that there will be an event to commemorate and celebrate the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela in Westminster Hall at 2 pm on Thursday 12 December.
I call the Prime Minister.
Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our lifetime, a pivotal figure in the history of South Africa and the world, and it is right that we meet in this Parliament to pay tribute to his character, his achievements and his legacy.
The Union and South African flags flew at half mast over Downing street for the day after his death, and they will do so again on the day of his funeral. Condolence books have been organised by the South African high commission. This evening, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and I will all fly to South Africa to attend the memorial service in Johannesburg. On Sunday, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales will represent this country at his funeral in Qunu. Here in this House, everyone’s thoughts are with the family of Nelson Mandela, his friends and the millions in South Africa and around the world who are mourning him today.
When looking back over history, it can be easy to see victories over prejudice and hatred as somehow inevitable. As the years lengthen and events recede, it can seem as though a natural tide of progress continually bears humanity ever upwards—away from brutality and darkness, and towards something better—but it is not so. Progress is not just handed down as a gift; it is won through struggle, the struggle of men and women who believe things can be better and who refuse to accept the world as it is, but dream of what it can be.
Nelson Mandela was the embodiment of that struggle. He did not see himself as a helpless victim of history; he wrote it. We must never forget the evil of apartheid and its effect on everyday life: separate benches, separate buses, separate schools, even separate pews in church; inter-racial relationships criminalised; pass laws and banning orders; and a whole language of segregation that expressed man’s inhumanity to man.
Nelson Mandela’s struggle was made ever more vital by acts of extreme brutality —such as at Sharpeville and Soweto—on the part of the South African authorities. His was a journey that spanned six decades: from his activism in the ’40s and ’50s, through nearly three decades of incarceration, to his negotiations that led to the end of apartheid and his election to the highest office in South Africa. It was, as he said, a long walk to freedom.
As a prisoner in a cell measuring 7 feet by 8 feet, there must have been times when Nelson Mandela felt that his fists were beating against a wall that would not be moved, but he never wavered. As he famously said at his Rivonia trial, he wanted to live for and achieve
“the ideal of a democratic and free society”,
but it was also an ideal for which, as he said very clearly, he was “prepared to die.” Even after long years of imprisonment, he rejected offers for his freedom until all conditions that would have prevented his struggle for justice were removed. What sustained him throughout it all was a belief in human dignity—that no one is naturally superior over anyone else, that each person has inherent worth. As he said so powerfully when he came to speak in this Parliament:
“In the end, the cries of the infant who dies because of hunger or because a machete has slit open its stomach will penetrate the noises of the modern city and its sealed windows to say, ‘Am I not human, too?’”
Nelson Mandela’s cries for justice pierced the consciences of people around the world.
Let me pay tribute to the Members of this House, including the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who considered it part of their life’s work not to rest until the evil of apartheid was ended. Mandela knew that there were millions across our country who said no to apartheid in ways large and small, from mass concerts to quiet shows of solidarity. There can be no doubt that he had a warmth of feeling for this country. He visited just months after his release from prison and a number of times in the following years, including the time when he spoke so memorably in Trafalgar square at that great event to make poverty history.
The character of Nelson Mandela was shown not only in the determination with which he fought, but in the grace with which he won. Nearly three decades in prison could so easily have left him bitter. On his release, he could have meted out vengeance on those who had done him so much wrong. Perhaps the most remarkable chapter of Mandela’s story is how he took the opposite path. In victory, he chose magnanimity. Indeed, with characteristic generosity, he invited his former jailer to his presidential inauguration. He employed as his private secretary a young Afrikaner woman who became his confidant and, in an image that is printed indelibly on our minds, he roused his country behind the Springboks in the most powerful gesture of reconciliation.
Nelson Mandela’s Government pursued a very deliberate policy of forgiveness. F. W. de Klerk and other National party officials were brought into his Government of national unity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to break the spiral of recrimination and violence. Those were astonishingly brave moves. His desperate hope was for an African renaissance, with South Africa at its heart.
In Mandela’s time after office, he showed no less determination in stepping up the fight against AIDS. It has been one of the great honours of my life to go to South Africa and meet Mandela. I remember discussing that issue in his office and hearing his determination to ensure that antiretroviral drugs reached all those in need. Here was a man of 88 who had been imprisoned for decades and missed a lot of the rapid social change that had taken place, but who had the vision to see through the destructive attitudes towards AIDS in South Africa. All those actions were marks of his extraordinary personal leadership.
Today, although challenges remain in South Africa, that country is on a far more hopeful path because of what Nelson Mandela did. Indeed there are signs of hope across the whole continent in its growth, in its emerging middle class and in the birth of new democracies.
Around the world, there already exist many monuments to Nelson Mandela. Just a few hundred yards from here, in Parliament square, the champion of democracy is cast in bronze, arm outstretched, mid-speech, as if beseeching those in this House to remember that democracy is a gift, and a gift to be used well. There has been a lot of debate, rightly, about how to secure his legacy. Surely one part must be to rededicate ourselves to the task of eradicating poverty and conflict in Africa, in which our historic commitment to provide 0.7% of our gross national income in aid can ensure that Britain plays her full part.
Of course, the most important monument to Mandela must be the lessons he has taught us: that there is dignity and worth in every human being; that an ounce of humility is worth more than a ton of might; that lasting, long-term change needs patience, even the patience of a life-time, but that change can come with determination and sacrifice.
It is with sadness that we meet here today to remember Nelson Mandela, but it is with gladness that we can say this: it was a long walk to freedom, but the walk is over and freedom was won. For that, Nelson Mandela has the deepest respect of this House and his enduring place in history.
Today, we remember the incomparable life of Nelson Mandela.
This House traditionally gathers to pay tribute to those who have led our country; it is unusual for us to meet to honour the leader of another. Why is it so essential that we commemorate the life of President Mandela in this way? It is for simple reasons: he is an enduring and unique symbol of courage, hope and the fight against injustice; he teaches us the power of forgiveness, having showed no bitterness towards his captors, just the love of a country that could be so much better if all its people could be free; and he demonstrates, even to the most sceptical, the power of people and politics to change our world. That is why we gather here today. On behalf of my party, I send the deepest condolences to his widow, Graça Machel, the Mandela family and all the people of South Africa. We mourn with them.
Today is an opportunity to remember the extraordinary life and the extraordinary story of Nelson Mandela. He led a movement, the African National Congress, that liberated a country. He endured the suffering and sacrifice of 27 years in prison—a son unable to attend his mother’s funeral, a father unable to attend his son’s. But in the face of such oppression, his spirit never bent or broke. Offered the chance of release in 1985 after more than 20 years in jail on the condition that he give up the armed struggle, he refused.
“I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of my people to be free”,
We honour him too because of the remarkable person the world found him to be after he walked out of prison in 1990 in those scenes that we all remember. As his old comrade Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:
“Suffering can embitter its victims, but equally it can ennoble the sufferer.”
There can be nothing more noble than determining not to seek revenge on your oppressors but to seek reconciliation with them. He truly was, as Archbishop Tutu said, an “icon of magnanimity”. That is why he not only became the leader of a struggle but truly can be described as the father of a nation, as we have seen in the tributes and emotion that he has inspired since his death in the black and white communities of South Africa.
We honour him too because, for him, the struggle against injustice was a story that never ended. Having been an activist who became a President, he was a President who became an activist once again, campaigning on causes from debt relief to HIV/AIDS to the war in Iraq.
We honour somebody, too, who wore his extraordinary heroism with the utmost humility. A year after he gave up the presidency, he came to the Labour party conference and described himself as
“an unemployed pensioner with a criminal record.”
He famously said to Desmond Tutu, who had teased him for his taste in gaudy shirts:
“It's pretty thick coming from a man who wears a dress in public.”
His empathy led him to seek out not the most famous person in the room but the least, and his warmth made every person he met walk taller.
So we honour a man who showed the true meaning of struggle, courage, generosity and humanity. But we gather here in our Parliament, in Britain, also to recognise that the history of our country was bound up with his struggle, in a spirit of truth and reconciliation. South Africa was, after all, once a British colony, but later Britain would become, in Nelson Mandela’s own words,
“the second headquarters of our movement in exile.”
The Prime Minister and I, and thousands of others, went to sign the condolence book at South Africa house on Friday. It is easy to forget now that South Africa house was not always such a welcoming place for the opponents of apartheid.
So we should also remember today the hundreds of thousands of people who were the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain: the people who stood month after month, year after year, on the steps of that embassy when the cause seemed utterly futile; the Churches, trade unions and campaigners who marched and supported the struggle financially, culturally and in so many other ways; the people who refused to buy South African produce and supported the call for sanctions—people whose names we do not know, from all over Britain, who were part of that struggle, as well as those who will be etched in history, including the leaders of the movement who found sanctuary in Britain, such as Ruth First, Joe Slovo and others. If the House will allow me, I will add that there were also those in my own party who played such an important role, such as Bob Hughes, now in the House of Lords, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) and so many more.
It may seem odd to a younger generation that apartheid survived as long as it did, given that it now seems to have been universally reviled all the world over. But of course the truth, and the history, is very different. The cause was highly unfashionable, often considered dangerous by those in authority and opposed by those in government. The Prime Minister was right a few years ago to acknowledge the history. It is in the spirit of what Nelson Mandela taught us to acknowledge the truth about the past and, without rancour, to welcome the change that has come to pass, but also to honour his legacy by acknowledging that in every country, including our own, the battle against racial injustice still needs to be won. So we come here to honour the man, to acknowledge our history, and for one final purpose—to recognise and uphold the universal values for which Nelson Mandela stood: the dignity of every person, whatever his colour or creed, the value of tolerance and respect for all, and justice for all people wherever they may live and whatever oppression they may face.
Nelson Mandela himself said “I am not a saint. I am a sinner who keeps on trying.” His extraordinary life calls on us all to keep on trying—for nobler ideals, for higher purposes, and for a bigger, not a smaller politics. Inspired by his example and the movement that he led, we mourn his loss, we give thanks for his life, and we honour his legacy.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, let me add my voice to the many tributes to Nelson Mandela, the father of modern South Africa. Our thoughts and condolences are with his loved ones, the people of South Africa, and everyone around the world who is grieving his loss.
Nelson Mandela’s message transcended the boundaries of nations, people, colours and creeds, and his character transcended boundaries too. He was a politician, but he appeared to be free of all the pettiness of politics. He was a warm human being with a mischievous wit, yet seemed to rise above the normal human frailties of anger and hurt. He was a man who was well aware of his place in history, but he did not want to be placed on a pedestal, and was humble at all times. Given qualities like that, it is little wonder that millions of people who did not meet him in person none the less feel that they have lost a hero and a friend.
I never had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela myself, but, like so many other people, I almost feel as if I had. He clearly made a huge impact on all those whom he did meet. I remember Paddy Ashdown telling me, with a sigh, that his wife Jane would regularly say that Mandela was the funniest and most charming man she had ever met. As a student, I was one of the thousands of people who flooded into Wembley stadium for the “Free Nelson Mandela” concert to mark his 70th birthday. I remember wondering, as I stood there, how on earth this one man could live up to everyone’s expectations if and when he was finally released—but, as a free man, Nelson Mandela not only met those expectations; he surpassed them.
The challenge for South Africa seemed almost impossible at the time. How could people who had spent so long divided in conflict, and had either perpetrated or suffered so much abuse, find it within themselves to forgive, to move on, and to build something together? Well, Mandela could and did, and the truly remarkable example of forgiveness that he set made it possible for his country to be reborn as the “rainbow nation”.
Given the enormousness of Mandela’s achievements, we are all struggling to work out the best way in which to honour his legacy. I like to think that one of the things that he would want us to do in the House today is pay tribute to, and support, the individuals and organisations around the world that fight for human rights and do not have a global name. Right now, all over the world, millions of men, women and children are still struggling to overcome poverty, violence and discrimination. They do not have the fame or the standing of Nelson Mandela, but I am sure he would tell us that what they achieve and ensure in their pursuit of a more open, equal and just society shapes all our lives.
Mary Akrami, who works to protect and empower the women of Afghanistan, Sima Samar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras, which works in the shadow of threats and intimidation, are just three examples of individuals and organisations elsewhere in the world that deserve our loyalty and support just as much as the British campaigners in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London who showed unfailing loyalty to and support for Nelson Mandela during his bleakest days. I, too, pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) and all his fellow campaigners for what they did at that time. All of this will make the way we mark tomorrow’s international Human Rights Day all the more significant, and Britain can pay no greater tribute to Nelson Mandela than by standing up around the world for the values of human rights and equality for which he fought.
When Nelson Mandela took his first steps to freedom, he made no call for vengeance, only forgiveness. He understood that dismantling apartheid’s legacy was about more than just removing the most explicit signs of discrimination and segregation, and he recognised too that to build a brighter future South Africa must confront the darkness of its past. In doing so, Nelson Mandela laid down a blueprint that has made it possible for other divided communities, such as in Northern Ireland, to reject violence, overcome their differences and make a fresh beginning. That is why I hope, in communities where people are still struggling to replace violence and conflict with peace and stability, that the principles of forgiveness and reconciliation that Mandela embodied are followed by others too. Recently, for example, the House debated the alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Surely there could be no better way for that country to heal its wounds and bring peace and unity to all its people than to follow Mandela’s example and emulate South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process.
As I see it, that is Nelson Mandela’s lasting legacy to all of us—to champion the defenders of human rights today and to know that wherever there is conflict and injustice, with hope and courage peace is always possible. As the Prime Minister reminded us earlier, at his 1964 trial Mandela told the world that equality in South Africa was an ideal for which he was prepared to die. No one who has listened to those words can fail to be moved to hear a man so explicitly and courageously put his life on the line for freedom. As others have remarked, Mandela famously liked to repeat the great saying that
“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
So on this year’s Human Rights Day and beyond, let us honour his memory by ensuring that the hope he gave lives on for all of those whose liberties and rights are still denied.
Fifty-one years ago, directly across from this House in Parliament square, standing in front of the statues of Gladstone, Disraeli, Peel, Palmerston, Lincoln and General Smuts, and with his friend Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela asked the question when, if ever, a black man would be represented there. That day in June 1962 was an important one—his first visit to London and possibly his last. He was on the edge of being arrested, imprisoned, put on trial twice—once for his life—and then spending 27 years incarcerated.
It was, therefore, a great privilege, on behalf of the people of Britain, to unveil in 2007 a statue of the first black man to be represented on that square—Nelson Mandela himself, in the presence of Nelson Mandela and his wife. That statue of Nelson Mandela stands there now and forever. Yes, his hands are outstretched, as the Prime Minister said, but his finger points upwards—as it always did—to the heights. He was the man most responsible for the destruction of what people thought was indestructible—the apartheid system—and the man who taught us that no injustice can last for ever.
Nelson Mandela was the greatest man of his generation, yes, but across the generations he was one of the most courageous people you could ever hope to meet. Winston Churchill said that courage was the greatest human virtue of all, because everything else depended on it. Nelson Mandela had eloquence, determination, commitment, passion, wit and charm, but it was his courage that brought all those things to life. We sometimes think of courage as daring, bravado, risk-taking and recklessness, and Nelson Mandela had all those in admirable quantities, but he was the first to say that true courage depends not just on strength of willpower, but on strength of belief. What drove Mandela forward, and what made him the great architect of a free South Africa—the first great achievement of Nelson Mandela—was the burning belief that everyone, every man and woman, was equal: everyone born to be free, everyone created not with a destiny to be in poverty, but created to have dignity in life.
The intensity with which Nelson Mandela believed this and his determination that he would never be paralysed by fear is something that is recorded for ever in a battered book that was brought into—smuggled into—the prison on Robben island, “The Works of William Shakespeare”. Alongside his signature, “N Mandela”, he has marked the words from “Julius Caesar”:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once…
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
Remarkably, that amazing courage to stand up to evil stood with the lack of bitterness that has been described already today, forgiving his warders, his prosecutors, the would-be executioners.
The most amazing story he told me was that on the night before they left prison he called all the ANC prisoners together, saying, yes, they would be justified in acts of revenge, retaliation and retribution, but that there could never then be a strong, successful multiracial society, and that was his second great achievement: to achieve change through reconciliation.
But there was also a third achievement: in refusing to rest or relax when he gave up the presidency, he had a third great, historic, far less acknowledged, achievement to his name. He wrote that in the first part of his life he had climbed one great mountain, to end apartheid, but now in his later life he wanted to climb another great mountain: to rid the world of poverty, and especially the outrage of child poverty.
I need speak only of what I saw in the times that I worked with him: how quietly and without fanfare he went about his work. In 2005 I flew to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela to persuade him to come to London so that he could then persuade the Finance Ministers of the need for debt relief to relieve poverty, and this he did. Then in 2006, he and his wife Graça Machel—a leader in her own right, who shared his ideals and will now carry his legacy into the future—launched the British programme for education for every child so that we could be the first generation in history where every child went to school. He warned us when we had that press conference in Mozambique that to get every child to school we would have to end child labour, child marriage and child trafficking, and that we would have to end the discrimination against girls, a campaign that he and his wife, Graça Machel, have been involved in ever since. Typically, Nelson Mandela said at the beginning of the conference that the cause was so urgent that he had now come out of retirement so that he could prosecute the cause, and at the end of the press conference he said that it was now up to the younger generation and he was returning to his retirement.
I visited him in South Africa in the week that his son died of AIDS. While in mourning and in grief and shocked by the events, he insisted on coming out to the waiting press with me. He said that AIDS was not to be treated as a moral judgment and censoriously; it was to be treated exactly like the tuberculosis he had suffered, as a disease in need of cure. His greatness as vast as the continent he loved, showing there that his greatness was a greatness of the human soul.
My good fortune was to meet Nelson Mandela not so long after he left prison, and I remember his first greeting: “Ah,” he said, “a representative of the British empire,” and then he flashed that same smile that could light up a room and then the world. Then 10 years ago, at the birth of my son John, I picked up the telephone and there was Nelson Mandela on the phone: he, too, had lost a child in infancy, and from that time on, on his birthday, the day before my second son’s, and on Graça’s birthday, the day of John’s, we exchanged telephone calls on the days of these birthdays and presents, letters and cards, the last only this October.
Raising money for children’s causes was the purpose of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday party in London, when President Clinton and I were proud to pay tribute to him, before an auction where he gave the original copy of his famous “Letter to a Child”. First, Oprah Winfrey bid for it, then Elton John. Both of them surpassed a £1 million. Oprah Winfrey then went beyond that million. She was then told that she would have to pay in pounds and not dollars. Nelson Mandela and I joked that it was time for another £1 million and that he should write another letter and sell it to Elton John.
Nelson Mandela’s last public event was in Hyde park, in London. Again, it was to raise funds for children. Sitting next to him, my task—something I was uniquely incapable of doing—was to explain who the celebrity acts were, what they were up to and what they were about. He was particularly intrigued by Amy Winehouse, who is sadly no longer with us. I remember him going down to meet her and her joking with him that her husband and Mandela had a great deal in common—both of them had spent a huge amount of time in prison. At that point, he wanted a drink, but Graça, his wife, had banned drink from the occasion, at least for him because of his fragile health. I can never forget this occasion: Mandela, with all these great achievements behind him, at the celebration party for his 90th birthday and surely entitled to a celebratory drink, hiding from his wife’s view the glass of champagne that I had produced for him.
Very few people know that Nelson Mandela loved not only to tell stories, but to gossip, about everybody, from the Spice Girls and celebrities in sport to political leaders—I will refrain from mentioning what he said about them, at least today. But he admired and respected Her Majesty the Queen, and he told me that he wanted the Queen to invite an African rain princess from his tribe to a reception at Buckingham palace. He had got nowhere with the diplomatic channels, so he decided to telephone her personally. The story goes of the conversation, in words that only Mandela could use—“Hello Elizabeth, how’s the Duke?” Although the official minute says that the Queen was non-committal, Mandela got his way.
Hung by Mandela on the bare walls of that bleak prison cell was a facsimile of the British painting by a famous artist, Frederic Watts. The haunting image he had in this prison cell was of a blinded girl sitting on top of a globe of the world. The painting, entitled “Hope”, is about the boldness of a girl to believe that, even when blinded and even with a broken harp and only one string, she could still play music. Her and Mandela’s belief was that even in the most difficult and bleak of times, even when things seem hopeless, there could still be hope. I believe that that explains why over these past few days we have both mourned the death of Mandela and celebrated his life with equal intensity. Who else could unite the whole world of sport unanimously, in every continent of the world, with applause? We are mourning because as long as Mandela was alive we knew that even in the worst of disasters, amidst the most terrible of tragedies and conflict, amidst the evil that existed in the world, there was someone there, standing between us and the elements, who represented goodness and nobility. And we are celebrating today because the lessons that we have learned from him will live on. He teaches us that indeed no injustice can last for ever. He teaches us that whenever good people of courage come together, there is infinite hope.
On the day of Mandela’s release in 1990, I was waiting with many millions of people for him to emerge from prison. I remember a particular thought at that time: although he was a global figure—the whole world knew of Nelson Mandela—no one had the faintest idea what he looked like. No photograph of him had appeared since he went into prison 27 years earlier, as a relatively young man of 46—now he was emerging as a relatively old man of 73. I met him for the first time when he came to 10 Downing street when John Major was Prime Minister, and I recall that as he entered, the whole staff of No. 10—70 or 80 people—spontaneously drew themselves up into two lines to applaud him as he walked to the Cabinet room. John Major said that that was the first time that had ever happened since he had become Prime Minister.
Nelson Mandela was not a saint, as we have heard. He was a politician to his fingertips. He actually believed in the armed struggle in the earlier part of his career and perhaps to some degree for the rest of his career, but, unlike many in the African National Congress, he eventually decided that ways of peace were more likely to deliver than the armed struggle. I recall going to South Africa four years after 1990 when he was President and having dinner with the then deputy Defence Minister of South Africa, Ronnie Kasrils. Kasrils was a white South African communist and a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He had been educated at the London School of Economics and was a strong believer in the armed struggle. I said to him, “You are a member of the South African Communist party and it was often argued at the time by the South African Government that you and your colleagues were trained in the Soviet Union. Was that true?” He said, “Yes, it was true. We were trained in Odessa, in Ukraine.” Then I asked him why he believed in the armed struggle, particularly as Nelson Mandela eventually decided on a political solution. He said, “Well we believed that the white Afrikaners, the apartheid Government, would never give up power peacefully. It would only be the armed struggle that would get them out of power.” I said to him, “Is that what they taught you in the Soviet Union?” I remember he groaned and said, “No, no, that is what they taught me at the LSE.”
I lived and worked in southern Africa, mainly in southern Rhodesia, for two years in the 1960s. I got to know South Africa well, and I must confess that, at that time, I too assumed that there would be no peaceful resolution of the problems of apartheid and that, whether one liked it or not, it would only be by revolution or by armed struggle that they would change the political system. I was wrong, and I was wrong because there was not one hero in South Africa but two, and it is worth remembering this. It was not just Nelson Mandela, who undoubtedly deserves the vast bulk of the credit, but the South African President F.W. de Klerk. Without both of them, there would not have been a peaceful resolution. In some ways, it was more difficult for de Klerk than for Mandela. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Let me explain what I mean; it is a serious point. Mandela was receiving power at a stage when most of the struggle had already been won, and de Klerk was having to persuade his own people to give power up before they had been defeated. The world had not seen such a situation before. To his credit, de Klerk realised that he needed the legitimacy of the electorate of South Africa, who were, quite wrongly but in practice, all white at that time. He called the referendum and, by the sheer force of his leadership, persuaded more than 60% of white South Africans to accept that the days of apartheid were over. Even then, it required Mandela—and it is to his credit—to go through long months of negotiation, not always with the support of his colleagues in the ANC, in order to deliver a transfer of power that offered the prospect of peace for all the people of South Africa. Mandela once notably said, “This is not about moving from white domination to black domination. There must be no domination of either community.” He was an extraordinary man in not only believing that but practising it with every fibre of his being.
As we look today at the lessons of Mandela’s extraordinary life and incredible achievements, at his contribution not just to South Africa, which goes without saying, but to the wider world and at why he has become such an iconic figure, two factors stand out. First, he is perhaps the best example that we have had in the past 100 years of how political leaders, by force of personality, transform themselves from politicians into statesman, and can by their sheer personal effort change the world and make what was impossible possible and then deliver it. He is not the only one who has done so. We should not think of him as unique. Gorbachev, by the force of his personality, helped to end the cold war and deliver the liberation of eastern Europe without a shot being fired, and few would have believed that possible. Lech Walesa, an obscure trade unionist at first, built up the Solidarnosc organisation and toppled the once mighty Polish Communist party. Anwar Sadat, a controversial figure in many ways, was yet another example. The extraordinary decision that he took to fly from Egypt to Jerusalem and address the Israeli Knesset as Egyptian President led to peace between Israel and Egypt. In our own day, we have Aung San Suu Kyi, and we all know what she has done and how it is transforming Burma. Being a political, charismatic figure is necessary but it is not sufficient. It must be combined with political skills, and of course Mandela was a politician to his fingertips as well as being a man with all those other talents.
The second lesson is that although of course political leadership is needed, we should also recognise, as Mandela did, the strength of diplomacy as a way of getting political change. Even after Mandela had been released, it took months and months of negotiation that could have collapsed at any stage into internal civil war. In a year when we have seen how diplomacy, which is not always fashionable, has produced agreement on Syrian chemical weapons and an interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, it is worth taking comfort from that and seeing how Mandela’s example can deliver in an extraordinary way.
I conclude by simply saying that when we pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, as we rightly do, we should pay tribute to him for what he stood for and we should acknowledge what he achieved in South Africa but we should also recognise what he taught the world about the resolution of what seemed like intractable political problems through patience, personality, courage and diplomacy. Military solutions and armed struggle are sometimes unavoidable, but often they are avoidable and he demonstrated that better than anyone in our time.
I thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their perhaps over-generous remarks about my role. Let me simply underline that there were many tens of thousands of activists in the Anti-Apartheid Movement who deserve to be acknowledged as well.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your personal leadership in ensuring that this tribute debate is such a special event, as you said, for such a special person. I note that you are wearing the South African tie on this occasion. I specifically thank you—this is very important—for proposing, along with the Lord Speaker, Thursday afternoon’s Westminster Hall event for civil society including, importantly, veteran activists of the Anti-Apartheid Movement who worked so tirelessly over many tough and bitter decades both for Nelson Mandela’s release and for the sanctions against apartheid that he wanted and that ultimately triggered his freedom.
I have never really been into heroes but Nelson Mandela was mine from when I was a young boy in Pretoria and unique among my school friends and relatives in having parents who welcomed everybody to their house regardless of colour—activists in the anti-apartheid struggle. I remember that one fellow activist, Elliot Mngadi, remarked, “This is the first time I’ve ever come through the front door of a white man’s house.” Blacks acting as servants or gardeners might be allowed in the back door occasionally.
My mother, Adelaine, was often alone in the whites-only section of the public gallery at Nelson Mandela’s 1962 trial in Pretoria and when he entered the dock, he would always acknowledge her with a clenched fist, which she would return. His beautiful wife Winnie attended the trial each day, often magnificent in tribal dress. Once, when my tiny younger sisters went with my mother during a school holiday, Winnie bent down and kissed the two little blonde girls to the evident horror of the onlooking white policemen. A black woman kissing two little white children disgusted them.
Forty years later, I was escorting Nelson Mandela to speak at the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, but before that he had an appointment with the Prime Minister that had been very carefully scheduled. We were going down in the lift in the hotel and he said, “How’s the family?” I mentioned that my mother had broken her leg and was in hospital. “Ah,” he said, “I must phone her.” The Prime Minister was kept waiting while Nelson Mandela chatted to porters and cleaners and waitresses and waiters, all lined up as the minutes ticked by. I desperately tried directory inquiries to get her phone number, eventually got the ward and was put through. I said to her, “There’s a very special person who would like to speak to you,” and I handed the phone to him. He said, “This is Mandela from South Africa. Do you know who I am?”
Having been sentenced to five years on Robben Island after the Pretoria trial that my mother attended, Mandela was then brought back more than a year later, as has been mentioned, to be Accused No. 1 in the Rivonia trial, when, facing the death penalty and against the strong advice of his lawyer, he famously 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 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.”
I remember reading those powerful words aged 14, trying to take in their full significance, and aware they were a great inspiration to my parents and all those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, as Nelson Mandela faced the death penalty. In fact, after worldwide pleas for clemency, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in July 1964, Mandela returned to Robben Island, not to be seen or heard in public again for nearly 26 years.
Two years later, in 1966, after my parents had been jailed, declared banned persons and deprived of earning a living, our family sailed past Robben Island and into exile here in Britain, and we will always be grateful for the welcome that we were given in this country. I remember looking out over the Cape rollers and imagining how Mandela and his comrades were surviving in that cold bleak cell. As an African, he was permitted 5 oz of meat daily, whereas coloureds were allowed 6 oz; he was permitted ½ oz of fat, and coloureds 1 oz: the evil precision of apartheid penetrated every nook and cranny of life, banning inter-racial sex as well as segregating park benches, sport, jobs, schools, hospitals, and much, much more. The apartheid state had hoped that, out of sight on the former leper colony of Robben Island, with its freezing cold waters that had devoured all escapees, Mandela would be out of mind, but the longer he was imprisoned, the bigger a global leader he became.
In July 1988, his 70th birthday became a global celebration, with a pulsating. “Free Mandela” anti-apartheid rock concert attended by 100,000 people at Wembley stadium and watched on live television by 600 million worldwide, despite—I say for the record, not out of any recrimination—some Conservative Members pressing the BBC to pull the plug on its coverage. Then, almost miraculously, something occurred that we had dreamed of, but deep down doubted would ever, ever happen—on that historic day in February 1990 Mandela walked out of prison to freedom, providing an image for ever imprinted on me and on millions, perhaps even billions, across the world. I say “almost miraculously” because history gets compressed and rewritten over time, and we take change for granted.
The reality was very different. Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom, and that of his African National Congress, was long and bitter, taking nearly 100 years from the days under British colonial rule when the roots of apartheid were established. Under Britain in 1900, 50 years before apartheid was formally institutionalised in South Africa, most of its features were already in place in the bustling gold-rush city of Johannesburg. By then, Africans were prevented from walking on the pavements—they had to walk on the streets—they had to carry “passes” to work in the city, they could not use buses and trains designated for whites, they were dreadfully exploited in the mines, and they had no political rights.
We all say in Britain that we were against apartheid, and doubtless we were, but some did things about it —others did not. The anti-apartheid struggle was for most of its life engaged in a big fight, here in Britain too. The executive secretaries of the Anti-Apartheid Movement—first, Ethel de Keyser, then Mike Terry—were indefatigable. Its chairman, Lord Bob Hughes, and treasurer, Richard Caborn—former Members of Parliament —were real stalwarts, along with Neil Kinnock and Glenys as well. Protests to stop whites-only Springbok tours provoked fierce anger. I remember them well: “Hain the pain”, as I recall. Some people might still feel that. Yet, as Nelson Mandela confirmed to me, the Springboks’ sporting isolation was a key factor in making whites realise that they had to change, so that today that wonderful black rugby star Bryan Habana can be a Springbok, whereas his predecessors under apartheid at the time that we were demonstrating never could.
Demands for trade and economic sanctions were also resisted, yet their partial implementation, regrettably not by London, but by Washington, eventually helped to propel the white business community in the late 1980s to demand change from the very same apartheid Government from whom they had so long benefited.
Mr Speaker, forgive me if, for a brief moment, I strike what I hope will not be seen as too discordant a note on this occasion, which sees the House at its very best, coming together to salute the great man. Were it not for interventions in the media in recent days, I would have let pass correcting the historical record. I give credit especially to you, Mr Speaker, for volunteering most graciously that you were on the wrong side of the anti- apartheid struggle as a young Conservative. I give credit to the Prime Minister for apologising for his party’s record of what I have to describe as craven indulgence towards apartheid’s rulers. And if Nelson Mandela can forgive his oppressors without forgetting their crimes, who am I not to do the same for our opponents in the long decades of the anti-apartheid struggle?
But it really does stick in the craw when Lord Tebbit, Charles Moore and others similar tried over recent days to claim that their complicity with apartheid—that is what I think it was—somehow brought about its end. To my utter incredulity, Lord Tebbit even told BBC World in a debate with me that they had brought about Mandela’s freedom. I know for a fact that Nelson Mandela did not think so. At every possible opportunity he went out of his way to thank anti-apartheid activists across the world for freeing him and his people.
It is therefore especially welcome that Nelson Mandela always retained an almost touching faith in British parliamentary democracy. Even though—I disagree with the interpretation by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—over most of his life he was a believer in non-violent legal peaceful change. by force of circumstance—the suppression of his African National Congress’s non-violent campaign for over 60 years—he had to become a freedom fighter and to lead an underground campaign of guerrilla activity similar to the French resistance against the Nazis. Even when the majority in this Parliament, and the Government of the day, were not on his side, he still cherished our parliamentary democracy. I mention this because Mandela’s old foes became his new friends, his former adversaries his admirers. That was part, as others have said, of his greatness.
But that was Mandela the political leader. There was, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) remarked in his marvellous speech, another equally engaging side to his greatness. He had an infectious capacity for mischief. In London a few weeks after our marriage in 2003, I introduced my wife Elizabeth to him. “Is this your girlfriend?” he asked. When I replied: “No, she’s my wife”, he chuckled, “So she caught you then?” When Elizabeth, who can be somewhat feisty at times, exclaimed indignantly that she had taken a lot of persuading, he laughed, “That’s what they all say, Peter, but they trap you in the end!” By then she realised that he was teasing her and we all ended up laughing together. He had apologised earlier for not coming to our wedding, instead sending a message, which contained these impish words to us newly-weds: “But perhaps I will be able to come next time!”
It was not just his towering moral stature, his courage and capacity to inspire, that endeared Nelson Mandela to so many. Despite being one of the world’s most prominent statesmen—perhaps the most revered—he retained his extraordinary humanity. When he was with you, you had all his attention. When he greeted you, his eyes never wandered, even though you were surrounded by far more important people. Whether you were a mere child, a hotel porter, a cleaner, a waiter or a junior staff member, he was interested in you. And he never forgot a friend.
On the same occasion when Elizabeth met him in 2003, my parents were also present, enjoying a reunion. The conversation somehow turned to my ministerial driver, whom Mandela promptly summoned. “I was once a driver, too,” he told him as they shook hands, referring to the time in 1961-62 when he was on the run and went underground, dubbed the “Black Pimpernel”, often moving about the country dressed as a chauffeur, in order to invite no attention, with cap and uniform and his white “master” in the back, as was stereotypical in those days and so a good form of disguise.
An ordinariness combined with extraordinariness was not Mandela’s sole uniqueness. His capacity for forgiveness is what made him the absolutely critical figure, first during secret negotiations in the late 1980s from prison with the Afrikaner nationalist Government and then after his release, both in the transition and in healing a bitterly divided nation.
That brings me to his status. Gandhi, Kennedy and Churchill are all iconic figures, the last for his inspirational wartime leadership and the first two more for having been assassinated. Yet today ask almost anybody anywhere which global statesman they admire most, and “Nelson Mandela” will as likely as not be the answer. Other world figures are usually famous within their own professional disciplines, sections of society, interest groups or age groups. Many attract hostility, cynicism or plain indifference. Nelson Mandela’s unique achievement was to command fame, admiration and affection from virtually everyone, everywhere in the world.
So if, as I believe, he is more iconic than anybody else, why? His life story of sacrifice, courage, endurance and suffering in the great and noble cause of liberty, democracy and justice places him among a very select few: the Tolpuddle martyrs, Chartists, suffragettes, Gandhi himself, anti-colonial African leaders, Che Guevara, Lech Walesa, Solzhenitsyn and Aung San Suu Kyi, to name just some. But Mandela towers above them all in the popular imagination, perhaps in part because he was the first such figure to be projected to the world’s peoples through the powerful modern media of global television and the internet. He was quite simply far better known than any comparable figure.
Equally, however—this is the lesson I draw—he survived, and indeed prospered, even under the fierce media spotlight of 24-hour news, over-hype and spin. Uniquely, he remained untarnished and undiminished by that modern media beast’s unrivalled capacity for building up then knocking down, leaving him serenely above all its insatiable prurience and obsession for triviality and instant novelty. Where most political careers end in failure or opprobrium, Nelson Mandela’s continued to soar long after he stepped down as President.
Mandela’s greatness, his stature, derived not just from an extraordinary biography that dwarfs the rest of humankind; it came from the warm glow of humanity that he radiated, his common touch, humbleness, self-deprecation, humour and dignity. Prison could have embittered, adulation could have gone to his head and egotism could have triumphed. The clutching of the crowd and the intrusive pressures of the modern political age could have seen him retreat behind the barriers that most leaders and celebrities today erect around themselves, not necessarily through any fault of their own, but in part to retain some personal space, but the consequence of which all too often becomes either aloofness or insincerity and its companion, cynicism. But none of that happened to him. Throughout everything, Nelson Mandela remained his own man, neither seduced by the trappings of office, nor deluded by the adulation of admirers, always friendly and approachable. That is why, for me, he was the icon of icons, and perhaps always will be.
President Bill Clinton, who has such a wonderful way with words, said:
“Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room, we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we’d like to be him on our best day”.
Sadly, Nelson Mandela will not be walking into our rooms ever again, but we can all still strive to be like him on our best days. For, as he said in one of his many memorable proverbs:
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”
It is a real privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who speaks with an authenticity that few others could have in these circumstances. It must be the case that the vindication of history sits comfortably on his shoulders and on those of all in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. He is entitled to his day today, and he has spoken very well of the things that matter so much to him and to so many of us.
I remember as a small boy writing to Basil D’Oliveira when he was excluded from the test team, and I remember cheering when a test series was cancelled. My parents were convinced I had become a communist. They are now, like one or two others of my colleagues, merely uncertain.
In 2000, Nelson Mandela visited Bedford to pay tribute to Archbishop Trevor Huddleston in the town of Archbishop Huddleston’s birth—Archbishop Huddleston, who gave so much to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. It is said that a photograph taken that day was used as the model for the statue in Parliament square. Mr Mandela’s host on that day was the mayor of Bedford, Councillor Carole Ellis. Sadly, Councillor Ellis is seriously ill at present, but I know that she is so proud of her own and of Bedford’s part in Mr Mandela’s story.
Between 1986 and 1990, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), I and Peter Pike, the former Member for Burnley, made three visits to South Africa at the invitation of the followers of Christ working for a peaceful resolution of the situation there. On our return from our first visit, on 17 June, we made joint speeches in a debate here in the House of Commons, referring to each other as our hon. Friends—a point duly noted by Hansard. We had gone together—safety in numbers—at a time when the ANC was still banned, the political situation was deteriorating, violence was abroad, and the isolation of South Africa was impacting on the flow of anything but very polarised information. We were able to report back to our respective party leaders on what we found. I had half an hour with an anxious, worried and very uncertain Margaret Thatcher. We reported back on the tragic success of apartheid in separating one person from another, on the urgency of the need for change to avoid a looming catastrophe, and on how the United Kingdom’s public position also needed to change. But we also, apparently rather unusually, reported some hope. I said in the House:
“There is a large group of people in South Africa whom many have ignored. They are those of all races who are working patiently for simple fellowship and reconciliation in pure human terms by meeting each other and sharing their lives and experiences. It was largely with those people that we spent our time, and through their friends across the political spectrum that we had contact with their politics.
Some of those with whom we stayed were white opponents of apartheid and had been so for decades, but all were people who realised that the abolition of the legislative structure of apartheid is almost secondary to the struggle to change hearts and minds. They should not be ignored, for if any group epitomises hope in South Africa, it is that group.”—[Official Report, 17 June 1986; Vol. 99, c. 960.]
We met on our visits, even in 1986, South African Government figures who worried about the impact of the release of Nelson Mandela but who knew that his death in prison would be a tragedy beyond comprehension. Like many others, we knew that only a miracle could save South Africa from violent confrontation, but unlike others, perhaps, we saw some of the groundwork being patiently prepared. South Africa was a land in which Jesus Christ was the person around whom so many could meet together, especially if they were those who were allowed to meet in no other circumstances. That task became easier after the Dutch Reformed Church publicly recanted its misplaced biblical support for apartheid.
South Africa’s people were readying themselves for a different future but uncertain if the miracle of leadership would be there. In the end, of course, the miracle was Nelson Mandela, with a passion for reconciliation and forgiveness that astonished the world. It was built on a base that had been prayed for and actively worked for in South Africa for years before his release. Nelson Mandela was the pivotal figure around whom all this work became based and whose attitudes overcame the fear and negativity from people who knew intellectually what needed to be done but simply could not see how it could happen. It is impossible to predict what would have happened without such leadership.
I regret that I did so little for the struggle here in the United Kingdom, but my friend Peter Pike, with 26 years in the Anti-Apartheid Movement before he even set foot in South Africa, deserves to have his voice heard today. I asked him over the weekend what he would say if he were here, and he told me of his memories of the visits. He reminded me that one MP had believed God created reptiles, birds, animals, black people, brown people and white people and that they should all keep their places as species—and he thumped his Bible to prove it. He undermined his argument, however, by declaring that he had proof that Mrs Thatcher was “a Marxist infiltrator”.
Peter reminded us of how, on our next visit, he had asked why the security was building up as we approached the security gate at Johannesburg airport. I said it might be because of the large “Free Nelson Mandela” badge he was wearing on his lapel. He asked one of the security guards, “Is it illegal for me to wear the badge?” He was told very briskly, “It is not illegal, but it is extremely inadvisable.”
Peter wanted to say this in particular:
“I believe one thing so typical of Nelson Mandela was when he addressed the large meeting in Nelspruit. At the end he had young white youths asking him what would their future be in a black South Africa. He put his arms around their shoulders and said he was not removing the domination of South Africa by the white minority to allow it to be dominated by another race. The new South Africa would be for all South Africans and that they were the South Africans of the future. He ended by saying it was a pity that they had wasted 27 years and could not have talked like this before.”
I wanted Peter Pike’s words—the voice of a true, authentic anti-apartheid supporter—to be heard in this House today.
In conclusion, world leaders have on their plate a series of conflicts, which I know only too well from the past three and a half years. A better tribute to Nelson Mandela than all the fine words we are going to hear at the funeral would be for the leaders involved in just one of those conflicts to echo reconciliation and forgiveness, the magnanimity of power and the true service of their people and to lead their people in humility and peace rather than grandeur and war.
For me, as for so many of my generation, the story of Nelson Mandela and his comrades and colleagues has been inextricably interwoven with political life and campaigning. Events such as Sharpeville helped awaken and shape political awareness. Campaigns against the evils of apartheid have run throughout the years of my political and trade union life. I think it is right to recognise today that the whole trade union movement, including my own union, Unite, of which I am proud to have been a member for almost 50 years, was resolute in its support and solidarity throughout those difficult years.
As those years drew to a close, I recall, like the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), a conversation with President de Klerk, who asked me, quite anxiously—I was surprised at how anxious he seemed—if I thought that reaching agreement would in fact transform South Africa’s standing in the world and end his country’s status as some kind of international pariah. He seemed relieved and almost grateful when I assured him that I thought that a free South Africa—or a South Africa with its people free—would be welcomed everywhere with open arms.
I think there is going to be much emphasis today on what we can learn from Nelson Mandela. As has been said, he was in no way a saint, as he himself acknowledged. He was, however—this point is not always mentioned, although it has already been made today—a politician, and a party politician and party leader at that. Born into a community that lacked wealth and power, he understood it was both honourable and desirable to band together with others of a like mind to fight to change things for the better. That, after all, is what every political party, in its own way, is about.
It was as the leader of the ANC that he took part in those historic negotiations. I say that in particular because the tone of some comments that have been made about him—not so much here today, but elsewhere, and for the best and most well-meaning of reasons—is such that it is almost as if he was somehow above politics. Of course, he became admired and revered, quite rightly, but he was not above politics; he was practising politics. He was engaged in politics, and it was through politics that the transformation of South Africa was secured.
Like many here, I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela on a number of occasions. One I particularly recall in these days was in 1998 when I attended the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the general agreement on tariffs and trade. Seated in the hall, I heard a tremendous commotion at the rear. The delegate from South Africa had arrived, and a kind of wave passed through the hall as delegates from every country in the world rose spontaneously to applaud him. I was both honoured and humbled when he took his place beside me.
We all honour him as a hero of the armed struggle. Unlike some others who were also honoured in that vein, particularly during my student years, he became also a hero of the peace. That is why we remember him in this way.
I follow on exactly from the comments of the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and her reminiscence but also her mild remonstrance, which is absolutely well made, that we are talking here about a politician. Certainly in the civil encounters with President Mandela in one capacity, and with Mr Mandela post-presidency in other capacities, not only was his sense of humour telling, but so was the self-deprecating use to which he put that humour, lest there was any thought that a political halo could be bestowed upon him. He certainly did not want that, and he would not want that to be part of his legacy today.
I mention humour because my first introduction to Nelson Mandela was far from fortuitous. He was then President, and enormous numbers of parliamentarians had somehow all descended on South Africa at the same time. They had come from New Zealand, Australia, here, Ireland, France—all on fact-finding missions. It was interesting that these fact-finding missions all coincided with the rugby world cup that was taking place in South Africa. Given that there were more visiting foreign politicians in the country than even visiting foreign rugby players, the President held a great gala reception. The leader of our delegation, my friend Rupert Redesdale, Liberal Democrat hereditary peer, was introducing the British delegation to the President, and he was pretty apprehensive in the presence of the great man. It came to my turn, and he said, “Mr President, one of my colleagues from the House of Commons in London. This is Nigel Kennedy.” The President’s characteristically firm handshake and jovial welcome confirmed two things for me there and then. First of all, he had never heard of Nigel Kennedy, but far more distressingly, he sure as hell had not heard of me either.
Things got worse on that visit. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), the then Member for Govan, who I am glad is in his place today—looking back, I was not so glad he was in his place on that occasion that evening—and I were photographed with President Mandela. What a wonderful memento to have. A few months later I was passing through Glasgow, my favourite city, and as I always do when I am there, I picked up a copy of the Glasgow Evening Times. The front page photo and lead story was that the South African Government had confirmed that the Clyde would be very much on the preferred bidders list for the latest warship that they were seeking interest in globally, and there was a photo of the hon. Gentleman and the President himself, with the caption, “Local MP, Ian Davidson, lobbying President Mandela on a recent visit to South Africa”. But the funny thing was that when I looked at the photo, I discovered that I had been airbrushed out of history. Perhaps that has been the story of my life ever since. I think, however, that President Mandela would have admired the hon. Gentleman’s guile, and the way in which he exploited that opportunity. He did not do it in a mendacious way, but it was not particularly helpful to me.
Another meeting that I recall took place when he was plain Mr Mandela again, post-presidency, when the years were beginning to show. It was the night of the concert in Trafalgar square and, as we would say at home, it was a gey dreich night. It was cold, windy and wet, with horizontal rain. Mr Mandela was tired, and he was wearing an overcoat. First, he insisted on working the room in South Africa House and speaking to everyone there. Then he went outside and enthralled the young, if rather soaked, audience who had been listening to the music. At that point, his minders were pretty keen to move him along and get him to his bed, which he clearly needed. But no—the coat came off and he came back up the stairs in South Africa House and worked the room again. We came face to face for a second time. He looked at me and said, “We talked earlier”, and I said, “Yes we did, Mr Mandela, it was an honour to meet you and we had a very nice chat.” “Oh good,” he said, “I will move on, but I did not want you to think I had been rude.” That is the difference, is it not? That was a man who, when he needed votes, could weigh them in quantities that we practising politicians can only dream of, yet when he was beyond the need for votes he still conducted himself with that extra special magic ingredient that separated him out, like the wheat from the chaff, from day-to-day jobbing politics the world over.
Today I am wearing the tie of Glasgow university, where I have the role of university rector. Glasgow gave Mandela the freedom of the city at a time when it was unfashionable to do so, and he came to celebrate that on another dreich day in the years following his release. Exactly a week ago, we were in this place paying tribute to those in Glasgow who had suffered as a result of the terrible helicopter crash. Many of the most heartfelt international tributes from outside this place came from South Africa. A week is a long time in politics. Last night, as rector of the university, I had the privilege of contributing to the beautiful annual carol service in the chapel. The format at the end was changed, so that instead of singing the university’s anthem “Gaudeamus igitur”, the choir sang a beautiful version of the rainbow nation’s wonderful national anthem. The thoughts that came to Glasgow from South Africa this time last week were returned with generosity and good will this week.
Mandela was in many ways simply the best. When President Obama said that we should not see his like again, I guess he was right on one level. But let us look at what Mandela did and at the fact that his words and deeds moved Table mountain, and let us hope that we do see his like again. Let us hope that we see his like in the middle east or in the vicinity of the Koreas, for example, where people are crying out for a generation of politicians of a quality that can move mountains and minds in the way that Mandela did. He reminds us that our trade need not be as awful as it is often depicted. He has given us something better to work for in ourselves.
It is a great honour to take part in this tribute to Nelson Mandela. As far as I am concerned, it is almost as good as the magic moment when I sat with my wife in Westminster Hall as he addressed both Houses of our Parliament as the democratically elected President of all South Africans.
I know that I speak on behalf of people in my constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, because they have a very special relationship with the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The movement was founded at a meeting of about 60 people in Holborn hall in the summer of 1959. Its first leaflets were distributed a fortnight later outside Camden Town underground station. Its headquarters were always located in our area, and it always had our support.
Local people were particularly delighted when Mr Mandela came to Camden Town in July 2003 to unveil a blue plaque in memory of Ruth First, who was murdered by the South African secret police, and Joe Slovo, who was a member of President Mandela’s first Cabinet. I am delighted that his daughter Gillian Slovo is here to observe our proceedings.
Over many years, committed people in Britain campaigned against apartheid, the trials of the leaders of the African National Congress and the imprisonments that followed. They continued to campaign against the oppression of all black South Africans and of all the other people who supported them. We also campaigned for the release of the prisoners, eventually concentrating on the release of Nelson Mandela, partly as a symbol—and what a symbol he turned out to be.
The commonplace history of political leaders is hope followed by disillusionment, but not with Nelson Mandela. His example exceeded the highest hopes of the opponents of apartheid, and shattered the delusions of those who portrayed him and the African National Congress as bloodthirsty monsters. Instead of bringing disillusionment to the world, he became the most widely admired man on planet earth.
Nelson Mandela shamed and astonished the world by his forbearance and dignity in the face of all that he and his comrades had suffered at the hands of the apartheid system, including the 27 years—I stress, 27 years—that he spent in jail. The phrase “27 years” comes trippingly off the tongue, but try to imagine what that was like. Let us each imagine the last 27 years of our own lives, and then substitute for them those 27 years of pain, deprivation and indignity. His were 27 years of powerlessness to protect his people and his family, and he was even denied access to family funerals. During all that time, he and his ANC comrades sustained one another by mutual support, but those 27 years of imprisonment were unforgivable. We all know that if we came out of 27 years of unjust imprisonment, we would demand revenge, so people the world over could scarcely believe it when Mr Mandela preached not revenge, but reconciliation, and then went on to practise what he preached.
That was not easy: it was not just a case of reconciling white South Africans with majority rule; it was necessary to reconcile millions of black South Africans with not taking what they regarded as legitimate retribution against their oppressors. However, those who supported the anti-apartheid cause were not so surprised at what happened. We knew that the freedom charter drawn up by the leaders of the ANC, including Nelson Mandela, had committed them to a non-racial South Africa in which everyone would be subject to the same laws and protected by the same laws, and which would pursue a policy of social justice. Those prisoners went into jail committed to that cause, and they came out committed to that cause. They had not changed their dream of a non-racist South Africa; it was up to others to abandon their oppression, racial smears and scaremongering.
South Africa and the world were fortunate to have, in Nelson Mandela, a leader superbly fitted to bringing about the necessary change. The responses from all around the world in the past few days attest to that. He was a man with a unique combination of profound dignity and a sense of fun; a man of towering intellect and plain words; and a man of the deepest enduring commitment to the cause of liberty. He was surely the model of what every decent human being would wish to be.
Meeting Nelson Mandela was a pleasure. He put people at their ease, but behind the twinkling eyes, charm and self-deprecating humour was the tempered steel of his commitment to his principles. After meeting him, most people, including Presidents and Prime Ministers, realised that they did not measure up to his standards. Most of us at least felt inspired to try to do a bit better in future. He made racists look pathetic. In my view, his example made it possible for Barack Obama to be elected President of the United States.
Mr Mandela rightly enjoyed the worldwide recognition of his remarkable character and achievements, but he never allowed that to divert him from applying the lessons of history and his political principles to the problems of the present and the future.
In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, like many others, I spent a lot of time on marches and rallies, handing out leaflets, organising campaigns, helping to organise the first Wembley concert and getting people to boycott South African goods. I confess that I sometimes wondered whether it was doing any good. I even felt the same after addressing the United Nations special committee against apartheid. In one of my conversations with Nelson Mandela, I confessed to my doubts about the value of our very limited contribution to the anti-apartheid campaign. His answer was that what we had done had been invaluable; that, even in jail, the prisoners had heard about the protests in London—they had known they had not been forgotten and they had been aware of the ever-growing pressure on the South African Government.
That, of course, is why he addressed the Labour party conference. He came to thank the Labour party and the trade unions for what he called our faithful support for the African National Congress “over many decades”, which had
“helped to make those years…bearable and contributed to them not turning out to be wasted years.”
That lesson from the past should hearten all people who are involved in today’s campaigns for justice.
The worldwide response to the passing of this good old man has involved praise in equal measure from both friends and former enemies. I am sure that Nelson Mandela would have wanted us to welcome the repenting sinners. However, the test for them does not reside in the sentiments they now express. The test of their sincerity will be revealed in their response to the problems the world faces now and in the future. Will they apply his tests of what is just and right?
In his speech at the Labour party conference, Nelson Mandela said that
“the world has become the global village of which we once spoke only in wishful metaphor.”
He pointed out:
“The danger is that globalisation can come to mean only the free flow of goods and finance, the open access to markets”,
“The concern for the common good, which characterised the international solidarity we spoke of, is in danger of being lost in the current understanding of a global world.”
It is time for leaders around the world and here at home to heed his warning. Then and only then will we know that they have really learned the lessons of Nelson Mandela’s life and work.
A few years ago, a child at a primary school in my constituency came up and asked me, “Who is the goodest person you know?” I did not correct her English—I knew what she wanted to know. I said, “Nelson Mandela.” All of us who had the honour of meeting him will go to our graves feeling privileged to be able to say, “Yes, I met Nelson Mandela.”
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), and I recognise the contribution that he made.
Just before the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) leaves his place, may I say that he became the first ever directly elected rector of Edinburgh university while I was a student a couple of years behind him? To break the secrets of the ballot box, I think he will know that he did not have my support. That was the time when the movement against apartheid was starting, and I pay tribute to all those who were involved. As chairman of the all-party South Africa group, I wish to record my tribute to Nelson Mandela, on behalf of all the group’s officers and members, and pay condolences to his widow, family and friends.
There are two major events in my lifetime that I believe will be remembered in history. One is the collapse of the Berlin wall and the events leading up to it. The other, of course, is the release of Nelson Mandela, leading to his eventual election as President and the introduction of true democracy in South Africa. Never has there been a time when the legacy of Nelson Mandela has been so needed as it is now. One need only see what is happening in the Central African Republic to realise how much we can learn from the history of his lifetime.
I also wish to record that the all-party South Africa group and other country groups meet under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and we must not lose sight of the great contribution that Nelson Mandela, his party and his Government made to the Commonwealth during his time as President. That was when the great diversity of the Commonwealth really came into its own.
In recording Nelson Mandela’s contribution and celebrating his life, I express great hope that his legacy will live on, and that his contribution to the great nation and people of South Africa, and to our great Commonwealth, will live on for future generations to enjoy.
I begin by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for clearing the Order Paper today to allow Members to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. It shows the unique way in which the House views that great man, the great Madiba, that we should have these tributes. I am in the fortunate position of agreeing with everything that every other speaker has said, which I suppose is a feature of this important and historic debate.
I met Nelson Mandela just after I was elected to the House. He was attending a reception in Westminster, and my meeting with him echoes the stories that others who met him have recounted today. I cannot say that I had anything like the relationship with him that my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) had, but anyone who did meet him will know that he was an extraordinary and very special man.
To the black and ethnic minority communities in this country, Nelson Mandela will of course have a very special place. When my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) was interviewed at the weekend, he talked eloquently about Madiba’s visit to Brixton and the great inspiration that he had been to the people there. Certainly if we go to any meeting at which race and racism is discussed, the example, legacy and inspiration of Nelson Mandela is mentioned. It is not just in respect of South Africa that we remember him. On one of his visits, we saw his support for the Stephen Lawrence campaign. He met Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and after the meeting he said this:
“We are deeply touched by the brutality of this murder, even though it is commonplace in our country. It seems black lives are cheap.”
Neville and Doreen Lawrence were inspired by those words, and it was the support of that global figure that enabled the campaign to be so successful.
On my arrival as the parliamentary candidate in Leicester, I walked straight into a Mandela issue: one of the controversies that unfortunately surrounded so many of the schemes to name monuments, parks and buildings after Mandela. After my selection, there was a huge controversy in Leicester because the local council—led at the time by the current mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby—was trying to rename the Welford Road recreation ground after Nelson Mandela. Many people objected, because they felt that he had no connection with Leicester, but the council persisted and named it after him.
Twenty-five streets in the towns and cities of the United Kingdom are named after Mandela, nearly a third of the world’s known total. Most date back to the 1980s. The first example was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), where the council unveiled Mandela close in 1981. I think that if Members wish to keep the legacy of Mandela going locally, they should take account of the examples set by other cities, such as Leicester, and try to name something after this great man.
Let me end by saying just two things, because I know that many other Members want to speak. Nelson Mandela was concerned not just about South Africa, but about Africa, and what concerned him was the legacy of those who had ruined that beautiful and rich continent because of colonial rule. When he won in South Africa, he said that it was not just about South Africa and apartheid in South Africa, but about laying the foundations of democracy for the future of Africa as a whole. Although our focus will naturally be on South Africa, especially this week, many other countries deserve the support of the House, and, although Mandela’s reach was global, he was particularly concerned about his own continent.
Every time we come into the Chamber for prayers—led by your marvellous chaplain, Mr Speaker—we read the words of the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those words of the Lord’s Prayer were practised by Mandela. He never preached religion, but his values in forgiving trespasses are very obvious in the life of this remarkable man. We will truly never see his like again.
Rather like the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I feel that everything that should have been said has been said—most notably, perhaps, by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), whom I am glad to call my friend, albeit outside the Chamber. After all, we were once in the same party together.
It is inevitable on these occasions that we speak, as it were, through the prism of our own recollections. Of course, Nelson Mandela created many iconic images, but one in particular sticks in my mind, and it has already been mentioned. Let me put it in context. I had not really understood the absurdity of apartheid in sport until 1965, when, at the White City stadium in London, two teams from South Africa were competing in the annual athletics championships, a black team wearing black blazers and a white team wearing green blazers. They were able to compete against each other at the White City stadium in London, but they could not compete against each other in Cape Town or Johannesburg. If I had any doubts about the absurdity of apartheid in sport, they were most certainly extinguished on that occasion.
As we have heard, sport in South Africa was a deeply divisive issue. When in 1995, at the rugby world cup final, Nelson Mandela wore a South African rugby shirt to present the winner’s trophy to the South African captain, he made an extraordinary gesture. Indeed, it goes a little further than we have heard today, because Mandela wore the No. 6, which was the jersey number of the white South African captain. I shall finish now, because so many hon. Members wish to speak, but by that simple act he turned what was divisive into something that was a force for unity. Surely on that occasion there was no better way to express his ambition for his country.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, it is a tremendous honour to take part in this special tribute to the remarkable and amazing Nelson Mandela, and to follow the amazing tributes that we have heard thus far from the Front Benches, from the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), from the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) and from many others.
I was at school and then at university in the 1980s, when apartheid as an issue, and the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress prisoners, was at its height. The Anti-Apartheid Movement in Scotland was extremely strong, with the city of Glasgow granting the imprisoned ANC leader the freedom of that great city. Everyone in Scotland remembers with tremendous affection Nelson Mandela’s visit to Glasgow after his release, when he collected the freedom of the city in person. He said:
“Whilst we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6,000 miles away refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system and declared us to be free. You, the people of Glasgow, pledged that you would not relax until I was free to receive this honour in person. I am deeply grateful to you and the anti-apartheid movement in Scotland for all your efforts to this end.”
What was true about Glasgow was true about many other places the length and breadth of the UK and around the world, and we today remember all of those people who campaigned for his release and the end of apartheid. We remember especially all those people in South Africa who made the ultimate sacrifice and died as part of that campaign. We also recall the support of Nelson Mandela for the Scottish justice system—which did not please all—with the compassionate release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
What Nelson Mandela achieved in South Africa was literally amazing and had previously seemed unimaginable. His humanity, dignity, optimism and vision are a legacy for the whole world to share and will never be forgotten.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). I too send my heartfelt condolences to Nelson Mandela’s widow and family. I will never forget the first time I met Nelson Mandela. Opposition Members have spoken of his extraordinary warmth and I certainly witnessed that.
I was lucky enough to visit South Africa on what I think was the first all-party parliamentary group visit after the 1994 elections, a delegation led by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen). The Conservatives on the delegation felt a degree of apprehension and unease before the meeting in Shell house in Jo’burg. We could hardly have been seen by the ANC as great historic allies, and we were not exactly on the right side of the struggle against apartheid. But I will never forget three things from that first meeting with President Mandela, as he was then. First was his extraordinary warmth. Secondly, he seemed to understand intuitively that the Conservatives on the delegation felt uneasy. He went out of his way to put us at ease, and when we went around the table introducing ourselves he said to the Conservatives, “I’m really grateful to Margaret Thatcher for what she did, and I am very grateful to your current Prime Minister, Mr Major, for all he’s done for our country.” It was as though he wanted to go out of his way to put our minds completely at ease. Thirdly, when the hon. Member for Nottingham North started the conversation he said, “Mr President, your Excellency, we are hugely honoured to be here,” and the President said, “No, no, I’m honoured to have you here.” I do not think anyone who met him ever forgot his incredible charm and his impeccable manners.
A lot of people have spoken about his magnanimity, his ability to forgive, his dignity and his desire for reconciliation, and I want to just pick up two incidents that are really quite extraordinary. First, he appointed his former jailer, Jannie Roux, who went on to become a prison commissioner, as ambassador to Austria. The other example testifies to his extraordinary ability to forgive: he organised an official lunch for Percy Yutar, who was the official prosecutor in the Rivonia trial and who was calling for his execution during that trial.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) mentioned, it is easy to forget the sense of pessimism in South Africa in the ’80s and very early ’90s. Indeed, 70% of South Africans believed that the situation would end in an appalling civil war and a bloodbath. I believe that Nelson Mandela was personally responsible for preventing that from happening and for preventing an utter catastrophe. Also—what an example this is to other African leaders—he never, ever went out of his way to try to better himself at the expense of his fellow countrymen. He never let power go to his head and he was never, ever corrupted. What an absolute tragedy that more leaders on that continent are not following his extraordinary example.
While we mourn a remarkable man, we must give thanks for a truly extraordinary life.
There are rare moments in life when the death of one person brings the world together and touches many hearts, and the passing of Nelson Mandela is such a moment. In truth, the words we reach for to try and describe his achievements seem not to match the scale of the task or do justice to what he achieved, the feelings we hold for him and the memories we have of both.
In Leeds, we have our memory of that day in April 2001 when he came to our city to receive its freedom—the highest honour we were able to bestow. We cheered his arrival in a packed Millennium square as he climbed the stage and, in his characteristic way, paused to greet every person who was on it, including the children who had been singing: everyone mattered and everyone was included. He then addressed us, and he began with these immortal words: “It is wonderful to be here in Liverpool.” There are other occasions on which uttering those words in Leeds could get you into some difficulty, but did we care? No, we did not: we cheered him all the more, because it was a privilege to be there in that throng to see a man who had made history.
Whether in public or in private, Nelson Mandela was that same man: he was calm, he was dignified, he was resolute, he was unfailingly courteous. It is no wonder that he was an inspiration to so many people, because, with grace, he showed that belief makes everything possible.
However, as we have heard today, it did not always seem so, and so as we remember one man’s extraordinary life, each of us recalls—including in the contributions we have heard, many of them extremely moving—how our lives were intertwined with his. Although the House speaks with one voice today, it was not always so. As we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, those who marched to Trafalgar square or stood on the pavement outside South Africa house were not treated as heroes—indeed, some regarded us, them and him as dangerous extremists. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) gave us a reminder by reading out those petty, demeaning rules on how much food the prisoners on Robben Island could get. When I visited and saw those things written on the signs, my jaw dropped, because there was represented a perpetuation of racist difference instead of what Mandela stood for, which was to embrace our common humanity. It is therefore right that we should pay tribute to all those people, including those still in this House, who showed such courage to stand up for him, for his ideals and for the ANC at a time when it was neither fashionable nor popular to do so.
Mandela’s passing also reminds us that many of the great changes we have now come to take for granted—and, oh, don’t we take them for granted—came not through the consensus we have heard expressed here today, but in and through struggle and through politics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) was absolutely right to make the point about the power of politics to utterly transform our world and people’s lives.
Out of all the words that have been used to describe Nelson Mandela two stand out for me: magnanimity and reconciliation. After those long years of imprisonment, he showed magnanimity at the very moment when he had forced the apartheid regime to grant him his freedom by refusing to yield, and he preached reconciliation. Why? It was because he knew it was the only way he could achieve his vision of a non-racist and democratic South Africa—it was his leadership that made that possible.
I simply say that one of the best ways in which we can honour Mandela’s memory is to let his example stand—the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) made this point—as a lesson to the leaders in other conflicts in the world today, because, like Nelson Mandela, they face two simple choices. The easy path is to remain a victim. The more courageous path is to say to those they lead and to the world, “This is what we must now do in the interests of peace.” Nelson Mandela once said:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
May he be granted in death the peace for which he campaigned so hard in life.
It is a privilege and honour to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn).
It is not easy to find the best words to describe Nelson Mandela, but his nobility, dignified nature and courage, and the inspiration he brought to countless others, have already been spoken of far more eloquently than I can speak of them. His absence of bitterness and resentment is perhaps the most extraordinary of all his attributes, and perhaps also the rarest. He was similar in one respect to Winston Churchill: in the magnanimity he showed, and spoke of showing, in victory.
Unlike many of the previous speakers, I never had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela, so I would like to honour him by mentioning just some of those who helped him in their small and various ways. There were millions who did so, including those who went to the concerts and those who went in their hundreds of thousands to marches. Of course the Jewish people, the people of my faith, played a crucial role in various stages of Mandela’s life, especially in his early decades. Apparently, the only white person he ever called a boss of his was Lazar Sidelsky, a Jewish lawyer from Johannesburg, who in the 1940s hired him as a legal clerk. In his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, Mr Mandela said:
“It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”
He went on:
“The fact that Lazar Sidelsky, one of the firm’s partners, would take on a young African as an articled clerk—almost unheard-of in those days—was evidence of that liberalism.”
Many years later, Mandela apparently attended the Bar Mitzvah of Sidelsky’s son, Barry. Countless other Jewish people had close relationships with Mr Mandela—people such as Isie Maisels, Harry Schwarz, Joe Slovo and Lionel Bernstein. Many others helped him in his long struggle and, in many cases, suffered for it. Arthur Goldreich helped to hide Mr Mandela and the ANC in the early 1960s. He apparently set up a fake farm to do so, but was unfortunately uncovered in 1963 by the South African apartheid security forces and later managed to escape to the country.
Benjamin Pogrund, the former deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, South Africa’s leading newspaper, was a pioneer in reporting politics at a time when it was not only unfashionable to report on black politics in South Africa but illegal. As has already been said, Mr Mandela was a politician, and the importance of having those political references transmitted in newsprint cannot be overstated. In 1961, Pogrund helped Mr Mandela to organise an illegal strike. In the 1980s, he was among the first non-family members to visit him in his cell on Robben Island. Of course there were others who were not supportive of Mr Mandela. Many in the small Jewish community in South Africa adopted a sort of benign neutrality.
Mr Mandela was always a strong supporter of the Palestinian people. I echo remarks made by Members on both sides of the House about how we now must look for leaders of a similar stature—I hope that that is possible—who can take the lead in other perennial conflicts around the world, and who can, like a colossus as Nelson Mandela was, bestride both sides of the argument. It will take someone of Mandela’s ilk to work towards reconciliation in those parts of the world. Nelson Mandela was always firm about Israel’s right to a peaceful existence, but he strongly supported the cause of the Palestinian people. In his work for reconciliation, he chose not to dig up the hatred and the anger, which are so justified in many cases. He famously said, “Those who wish to foster recrimination and hatred are like people who take poison expecting it to injure their enemies.”
In 1997, he agreed to receive, in South Africa, an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion university. He then went on to take about 30 honorary doctorates. It would be remiss of me not to mention Progressive party member Helen Suzman, the only politician in the South African Parliament between 1961 and 1974 who was opposed to apartheid.
A great woman, as my hon. Friend points out.
Apparently, when Helen Suzman was questioning a Minister in the South African Parliament and asking him to justify the apartheid policies that the South African Government were inflicting on the people of that country—she was alone in her views—the Minister said to her, “Your questions are embarrassing South Africa, ” and she responded, “It’s not my questions, it’s your answers.” She was made an honorary dame by Her Majesty the Queen in 1989 and the House will no doubt agree that she richly deserved that honour.
I wanted to honour Nelson Mandela in my speech today by mentioning just a small number of those people who helped him along that path and by giving the names of some of those who honoured him in their lifetimes. I pay tribute to a great man.
I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) that Nelson Mandela would have had a loathing of anti-Semitism while at the same time supporting the Palestinian cause. He would have recognised that the Palestinian cause is another injustice that must be righted at some stage—and the earlier the better.
In paying tribute to this outstanding personality today, we should remember, as he would always wish us to, all those who dedicated themselves to the liberation movement in South Africa and worked tirelessly when they were forced into exile. It should not be forgotten that when Mandela faced a possible death sentence in 1964, seven others were in the dock with him. They included Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, whose son was to be the second President of South Africa after apartheid, and Denis Goldberg. They were all sentenced to prison for life and they all knew before the sentence was passed the sharp possibility that they would be executed.
Others should not be forgotten either, such as Steve Biko, who was not of the ANC but had his own black consciousness movement. He was arrested on a number of occasions and the last time he was in police custody he was murdered. He was beaten to death in November 1977. Others were murdered outside South Africa, of course, including, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, Ruth First, the wife of Joe Slovo. As Members will know, Joe Slovo was one of the leading senior military commanders in the ANC. Like Ruth First, he dedicated his life to a free South Africa. Slovo survived all and became a Minister in Mandela’s Government.
If I may stray just a little from the consensus today—only a little—I think that we should be asking ourselves in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela how it was possible for the apartheid regime to last more than 40 years. My knowledge of South Africa at 15 was very limited. I knew about the war involving Britain that my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) mentioned, obviously, and I knew that Africans in that country were not having a good time of it, to say the least. But when I read in 1948 that the National party had won the election, I knew immediately, like so many people in this country and despite my young years, that far worse was to come for the black majority.
Three years after the decisive defeat of European fascism, with Nazi Germany defeated at long last, why, when a regime came into being with a Government elected by whites that was determined to bring about the strictest form of segregation based on colour and to remove the few rights that Africans had, did western powers show such indifference? Later, it was not indifference alone. We know, as was widely reported, how every form of humiliation was put on the majority of people living in South Africa, such as the notorious pass laws, which made their lives difficult from day to day. We know the repression and the manner in which people such as Nelson Mandela and the rest were forced, against their wishes in the main, to take up armed struggle. The ANC, which was established in 1911, was anxious to avoid violence until 1960, but after Sharpeville that was not possible. Ironically, Sharpeville was not organised as a demonstration by the ANC. I remember the reaction of the Labour movement when Sharpeville occurred on 21 March 1960. It was an early Easter, and the London Labour party, for instance, cancelled its weekend meetings and joined a massive demonstration in Trafalgar square. Far from opposing the regime, there was indifference when the apartheid Government were elected. Britain, the United States and most democracies were quite willing over those 40 years, to sell all kinds of military equipment to South Africa and to train its military personnel.
We raised the issue on many occasions in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, before Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were released, and before the ban on the ANC was lifted, and every time we did so in the House of Commons the response from the Government of the day—certainly from Conservative Governments—was “We oppose apartheid”. I do not question that—I do not believe for one moment that Mrs Thatcher was in favour of apartheid. In fact, she would have realised that that was counter-productive. The accusation is not that those politicians were in favour of apartheid—some may have been, but the majority were not—but that they refused to take any action to undermine and isolate the system and see it destroyed. That is the accusation that I think historians will make against those in power. That does not apply only to Britain—the United States carried far more responsibility for keeping the regime in office.
I hope that the lesson has been learned: when tyranny occurs, we should take a somewhat different attitude. I hope that there is no repeat of what occurred when apartheid was able to exist for such a long time. I also have to ask why so many Members of Parliament, and future Members of Parliament, were willing to go on so-called fact-finding trips, with all expenses paid by the South African Government? It was argued that they wanted to see the position for themselves, but I noticed when they came back that they did not condemn the regime, which is an indictment of parliamentarians of the past that I hope will also not be repeated.
Nelson Mandela was one of the great people of our times. He was an outstanding personality, he gave inspired leadership to his people and in his own way—27 years’ imprisonment, apart from anything else—dedicated his whole adult life to freedom in South Africa. I wish only that we could say that Britain played a decisive part in helping to remove the apartheid regime, and in paying tribute to Mandela we should recognise our own faults and limitations.
It is a privilege to take part in this debate to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and to join colleagues who have done that so wonderfully well across the House.
At the period of its greatest need in the last century, that beautiful, proud, rich and wonderfully diverse and talented country, South Africa, needed someone of Nelson Mandela’s stature to rescue it from what was, in my judgment and that of many others, inevitable civil war. There was a great probability of huge conflict and further killing to add to all the injustice, suffering and oppression that had gone before. After 40 years of pent-up repression since 1948, things could not have been held for much longer by the apartheid regime.
I, like others, became a student activist in the Young Liberals at the same time as the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). I pay tribute to him and to his parents and his family for their example, having come to this country, in making people realise that we had an international duty of solidarity to others a long way away. Even if we could not directly affect what was happening, we could indirectly affect what was happening. The stop the tour campaign and the other actions certainly added to the changes that South Africa underwent.
Many people who have been in this place and are currently in the other place and elsewhere were part of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and led it in this country. Like others, I am very clear that Mike Terry was a stalwart of the movement, and I pay tribute to Bob Hughes, now in the other place. I pay tribute to Dick Caborn, with whom I reminisced only the other day, and to Glenys and Neil Kinnock and others in the Labour party in this country. I pay tribute, too, to my colleagues—to Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel and Paddy Ashdown, who were unrelenting in pursuing the case for a change in apartheid. I am glad that the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) paid tribute to Helen Suzman, the sole white South African Opposition politician elected under the apartheid system, who challenged and challenged and challenged again the oppression of the apartheid regime.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said in his moving speech, we were privileged first to visit South Africa together in 1986 with our friend, Peter Pike, and Anthony Cordle, who arranged for us to go. I have very rarely been in tears in my public life, but we landed on the day before the anniversary of the Crossroads massacre. We stayed in the house of John Reid, the pro vice chancellor of Cape Town university. He was breaking the law by having black students living with him and his family in his house in a comfortable suburb of Cape Town.
On the other side of the railway line was the destroyed settlement of Crossroads. When we went to the memorial service the next day South African defence force tanks circled around us—the Casspirs—where 20,000 people’s homes had been destroyed. It was more than I had ever imagined a place where liberty had been extinguished for the majority of the people, and the oppression of the military and the South African economic strength was bearing down on them. I pay tribute to those such as our friend Garth Collins, who had started building bridges, which meant that from staying in the townships, in places such as Soweto, and visiting activists there, we could in the same day go to talk privately and confidentially to people in the Government who understood that they would have to change their ways.
We met people in the Dutch Reformed Church who, even then, did not understand how evil was their interpretation of the Bible as they understood it. I remember Peter Pike and I meeting P.W. Botha. We saw him coming towards us and we had a terrible moment: do we shake the hand of somebody whom we have opposed and campaigned against all our lives—Peter as a trade unionist and anti-apartheid activist, Alistair and I—or do we not? We did so, although, I have to say, it was difficult. Nelson Mandela showed that you have to reach out, shake people by the hand and seek to persuade them that they need to change their ways.
In 1994 I was privileged to host some young South Africans, mainly black and coloured South Africans, who were here on the day of the first election—that great day in April 1994 when the election took place in South Africa. Colleagues might remember that three polling stations were set up in London, one of which was at Methodist Central hall, for the first-ever democratic election. These youngsters wanted to be the first people to vote in this first-ever free election, so they camped overnight on the steps of Methodist Central hall. There were lots of journalists outside and they went in to vote. As they came out, the journalists were asking, if I may say so, rather simplistic journalistic questions. They stopped a young girl and asked, “Didn’t you find it very complicated to choose who to vote for, given that long list of parties on the ballot paper?” There was a little pause and she said to the journalist, “I didn’t find it complicated at all. We’ve had a lot of time to think about it.” A young black guy, perhaps 18 or 19 years old, was asked, rather predictably, “What did you feel as you cast your vote?” He paused and then very wisely said, “I put a very big cross so that nobody could ignore my opinion.”
That liberation moment, when those people queued to vote in that first election, that transformational moment, was Mandela’s doing. It was no accident that he was able to deliver it, because he had worked and prepared for it during his time on Robben Island. He learnt to speak Afrikaans fluently in order to engage not only with his jailers, but with people in the Government. He went out of his way, even before his formal release, to meet people secretly.
That great moment when he walked on to the pitch at the rugby world cup final in 1995 also followed huge preparation. Mandela had met Francois Pienaar on many occasions and they had become close friends. We remember his wonderful comments when he commended Francois Pienaar and the Springbok team, which I believe had only one non-white player in the squad, while wearing the Springbok jersey. Francois Pienaar said, “We are playing this game for you, Mr President, not only for South Africa.” The crowd, which was almost entirely white, chanted “Mandela, Mandela, Mandela” from the stands as South Africa went on to win. For those Members who are interested in sport, I recommend a wonderful book by John Carlin, “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation”, which tracks the history of that rugby world cup tournament up to that moment. It is inspirational reading.
I had the huge privilege of being back in South Africa earlier this year. I was met by Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape, who kindly accommodated me in what had been the district administrator’s residence. I did not know it until I went into the house, but the room I was given to sleep in was the room in which Mandela had slept the night before his presidential inauguration—it is now called the Madiba room. I texted family members and friends back home to share my excitement. One replied, “He was a great man, and I assume somebody’s changed the sheets since then.” But as I sat at the desk from which he composed his Cabinet and looked out over Table Mountain, it was only then that the significance of the transformation he had brought about in politics in South Africa completely dawned on me.
I associate myself closely with the comments of the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). Mandela was a political leader of a political party of a political movement across a continent, and it was in that role that he stood for office and was returned as the first democratically elected South African President. Hugely to his credit, he did not cling to office. He served only one term before handing over to the next generation, to Thabo Mbeki and others. A little like the father of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), Tony Benn, who said when he left this place that he was going to do politics outside, Mandela went on to do wonderful leadership work—for example, in campaigning against HIV/AIDS.
I hope that Mandela’s legacy reminds everybody not only of the great example of people such as Trevor Huddleston and the wonderful inspiration of places such as St Martin-in-the-Fields, which campaigned against apartheid for many years and hosted all those who were not allowed into the South African embassy when they protested in Trafalgar square, but of the others in public life who always argued for the principled position. He proved that politicians can change the world, and even that lawyers who are politicians can do really important things.
I think that the courage, dignity and discipline that Mandela showed had another lasting legacy that colleagues, including the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), have alluded to: he made us realise that we all have a mutual responsibility for each other across the world. There is so much injustice, discrimination, poverty and inequality, including in South Africa, still to fight. I hope that he will inspire the people of South Africa, all its leaders and all its parties, to rise to the challenge and the rest of the world never to stand by for so long when such oppression goes on, to such disadvantage to so many. The most commonly heard phrase today has been, “We will never see his like again”, but we will do him a disservice if we do not use that inspiration in our own lives and in our politics.
It is a privilege to speak today as one of the thousands whom my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition described as having been involved, month after month, year after year, when the Anti-Apartheid Movement was unpopular, in raising the demands of Mandela and of the African National Congress. We had no personal connection with South Africa but were drawn into the movement by the horror of apartheid, by the courage of those who stood against it, and by recognising the complicity of our own country in the apartheid regime’s longer-than-fitting survival. I was privileged to be involved for 25 years, for 16 of them as part of the elected national leadership of the movement, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley).
In 1976, shortly after the Soweto uprising, the ANC asked me to go to South Africa because at that time I was co-ordinating the student campaign in the UK against apartheid. The ANC wanted me to meet those involved in the uprising to explore how we could work together to build international solidarity. I travelled widely throughout the country until I was forced to leave having drawn the attention of the South African security forces. Among many powerful memories, I recall staying illegally in an Indian district in Cape Town in a house with a distant view of Robben Island. The woman whose house it was, who was not herself involved in politics, was probably puzzled by my presence there, having done a favour for a friend in putting me up. I probably did not recognise the risk that I was putting her at by being there illegally. We were talking one morning in her kitchen, and she pointed across to Robben Island and said, “When you go back to your country, tell your Government that that’s where our leaders are—not in Pretoria.” Sadly, it took many more years before this country did recognise that that is where the leaders were and did recognise the extraordinary leadership of Nelson Mandela.
In acknowledging that leadership today, we should also remember those who stood alongside Nelson Mandela who are also no longer with us: Walter Sisulu, who recruited him to the ANC, and Walter’s exceptional wife, Albertina, who, four decades later, nominated Mandela as the first President of a free, non-racial South Africa; Mandela’s colleague in the law practice in South Africa and subsequently the person who flew the flag of the ANC in exile for so long and so well, Oliver Tambo; and those already mentioned who built the Anti-Apartheid Movement around the world and in the UK, particularly Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who, as president, led it so wonderfully for so many years, and Mike Terry, who, as executive secretary over the longest and most critical part of its existence, provided strategic leadership and a sense of direction that made it into the organisation that it was in this country.
I am proud that my city of Sheffield played its part in that movement. Hundreds were involved in the campaign against apartheid and thousands more took up the call by refusing to buy South African goods, changing their bank accounts, challenging the trade missions that went from the city, and standing outside our theatres and other big venues when those who breached the cultural boycott of South Africa performed there.
Our city council led a network of local authorities against apartheid. One of our universities divested itself of shares in companies operating in South Africa and another named one of its major buildings after Mandela. Our churches took up the cause and our trade unions pressed the boycott of South Africa in the workplace. All were inspired by Mandela, the ANC and the values of the freedom charter agreed at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955.
It is important that when we reflect, we learn the real lessons. A lot has been said today about reconciliation and rightly so. Reconciliation is built on forgiving, but not on forgetting. The starting point for the reconciliation process that Mandela put in place in South Africa was to confront the truth of those who had been involved in the apartheid regime’s oppression. Around the world, many of those who have been quick to praise Mandela now should recognise, with humility, that they were as quick to condemn him in the past.
The eulogies of the past few days have glossed over the reality of the struggle. The story has been told almost as if white South Africa had, in time, come to their senses, realised that they had got it wrong with apartheid and thought it was about time they released Mandela and negotiated a peaceful settlement. Actually, however, the Prime Minister was right to say in his opening remarks that justice in South Africa was not handed down; it was hard-fought for. The truth is that freedom was not, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) suggested, benevolently gifted to Mandela and the ANC by the regime. They fought for it and they won it in a victory over the apartheid state. They were opposed at every step of the way—brutally—by the regime and were too often let down by western Governments who put their economic interests first, blocked sanctions, applied the veto at the UN Security Council time after time during the ’80s and condemned Mandela as a terrorist.
It was only after years of civil resistance, often at appalling personal cost to the people of South Africa, that that resistance had made South Africa ungovernable. It was only when, despite the opposition from Governments including ours in the ’80s, sanctions had made South Africa more isolated internationally that the regime recognised it had no future. It was driven to the negotiating table by the uncompromising campaign led by Nelson Mandela and the ANC, and in the negotiations before and after his release he made no concessions.
Compassion, forgiveness and generosity were the characteristics of Mandela’s post-apartheid nation building, but it was his political vision, judgment and uncompromising determination that created the opportunity to build a new nation. Of course, Mandela could, as others have said, have led a revolution that simply turned the tables. As many have pointed out, he did not. Instead of revenge, he sought reconciliation. To honour his life, we should be learning from his values, seeking to build understanding and respect between communities, challenging at every opportunity the politics of hatred and division, committing ourselves to the cause of equality and justice, applying those values in our debates on domestic policy—on immigration and on human rights and when we consider our role in the world—and not making the mistake again of being on the wrong side of justice.
Standing up for those values, even when it is uncomfortable or when it is inconvenient, would be the measure of our tribute to Mandela.
Having heard the contributions of two Prime Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and a number of other senior Members of the House, I think my contribution this evening is almost superfluous. In fact, it probably is superfluous. But having heard the contribution of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), I think my contribution is probably impertinent. However, I want briefly to give a little illustration of Nelson Mandela, the man not in the public eye, and perhaps to illustrate—others will know of him far better than I did—how that characteristic of disarming modesty and magnanimity, which has been spoken about so much this afternoon, came across to me.
In September 1990, just a few months after Nelson Mandela had been released, I was in Johannesburg, in the offices of the Johannesburg Star, discussing as a newspaper lawyer with the editor of the newspaper issues to do with freedom of the press and wider freedom of expression, to do with censorship and self-censorship, which the media in South Africa had either had imposed upon them or had felt sensible to impose upon themselves. There came a time when our conversation came to an end and I said to the editor, “Just across the street are the offices of the ANC. Do you think if I went in there and asked to see Mr Mandela, they would let me?” Whereupon the editor said, “Of course they won’t, but you might as well have a go.” So I went across the street, pressed the button on the lift and went to the top floor of the building, and the girl behind the desk in the ANC offices said, “Hello, can I help?” and I said, “Yes, I have come to see Mr Mandela.” She said, “If you sit there, he will be with you in a moment.” So I sat there.
After a few moments, Joe Slovo came out into the hall and said, “Hello. I gather you have come to see Mr Mandela.” I said, “Yes, I have.” He said, “Well, he will be with you in a minute.” He went back, and about 10 minutes later, Mr Mandela, Mr Slovo and a note taker—so reminiscent of our modern government—came into the hall and ushered me into a boardroom, where Mr Mandela sat at the end of the table, Mr Slovo sat on his left, I sat on his right and the note taker sat opposite. Mr Mandela said to me, “Welcome to South Africa. Thank you for coming to see me.” I said, “On the contrary, thank you very much—” and he stopped me and said, “You are not Dutch.” I said, “No, I am English.” He said, “Whoever let you in should be taken out and shot.” Whereupon he roared with laughter, gripped me firmly by the hand and said, “Let’s talk. Who are you? What are you here for?” I was not a Member of Parliament; I was simply a jobbing lawyer across the road at the Johannesburg Star, who had taken an opportunity that Mr Mandela, as a former guerrilla, had thought quite witty.
I had 20 minutes with Messrs Mandela and Slovo, and during the course of those 20 minutes I learned a lot about human nature and political forgiveness, and I learned a lot about that great man himself. During the course of our conversation, he told me that he now felt as much a prisoner of the expectations of the majority population of South Africa as he had of the apartheid regime while incarcerated. It had not occurred to me until he told me what a huge effort would be required by him to ensure that the new South Africa could be a peaceful and prosperous one. But I think it is fair to say—the right hon. Member for Neath will know more about all of this than I—that the South Africa that we see today, with all its imperfections and economic difficulties, would be light years behind where it is now were it not for the example, conduct and character of that most extraordinary man.
When I left that room, Nelson Mandela asked me what I was going to do in future years—I was not quite 39, so for him a youngish man—and I said I was hoping to become a Member of Parliament in the Conservative interest, and he said, “Well, make sure you send me your maiden speech.” I am afraid that I let him down; I did not send him the speech, but I think that if I had done so, he would have read it and probably written back to me—indirectly if not directly—to remind me of our discussion.
Some years later in the mid to late 1990s, when I was a visiting fellow at St Antony’s college in Oxford, President Mandela came to open a seminar and lecture room there. I thrust myself forward from the crowd of hundreds and introduced myself to him, saying, “Of course you will not remember when we met in your offices some years ago.” He said, “You’re quite right. Of course I don’t remember you, but it is very nice to see you.” One of our sort of politicians would have lied and said that they did remember, but he did not.
I realise that I am in danger of talking about myself rather than about Mr Mandela. I am telling this story to illustrate the fact that even though he could expect nothing from me, I had nothing to give him and I was a waste of his time in that meeting room in 1990—and I certainly was not the Dutch parliamentarian he was expecting—he gave me his time and, more importantly, he gave me his hand. I shall never forget that. He shook my hand and I shall be eternally grateful for that hand of friendship that he gave to me, a stranger. That is the man that I remember.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). I should like to place on record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to be called early in the debate, and to apologise for my absence earlier in the day. I have not been particularly well but my doctor, Dr Grant, allowed me to come here because I insisted on doing so.
It is with great pride that I speak today not only as the hon. Member for Aberavon but as the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, whose work has been enormously influenced by the new free democratic South Africa. I have also been a member of the Wales anti-apartheid movement since its earliest days, and I want to pay tribute to my long-standing friend Hanif Bhamjee, who kept the movement going through the most difficult times. He should have been mentioned in Nelson Mandela’s speech in 1998 when Mr Mandela received the freedom of the city of Cardiff, but Hanif insisted that his name be replaced by that of someone of the same age and vintage as Nelson Mandela—namely, Bert Pearce, who was the general secretary of the Communist party in Wales.
Many tributes have been paid to Nelson Mandela, but to me the most striking was the one from his long-term adversary, F. W. de Klerk. He emphasised how important Nelson Mandela had been in convincing so many people, including himself, of the importance of the universality of human rights.
We all have particular memories of Nelson Mandela and, listening to the debate today, it has been striking to hear how diverse those memories are. My most important memory of him is my first memory, and it dates back almost to the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s journey, at the end of the Rivonia trial. I went with my father, who was the general secretary of the south Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers, to Llandaff cathedral. Like many cathedrals and churches across the world, Llandaff had decided, under the leadership of the World Council of Churches, to hold a vigil through the night at which people would pray and show their solidarity with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and all the other African National Congress leaders who could be sentenced to death. It was our duty and privilege to be there, just as it is a privilege to recall that moment. Bishop Glyn Simon and Dean Eryl S. Thomas read from the New Testament through the night until dawn. That gathering was remarkable for its diversity of political opinion and faiths. There, in microcosm, was a kind of mirror image of the African National Congress: it was representative of the emerging Wales anti-apartheid movement, and all progressive opinion in Wales was there.
That was the beginning of the long journey that Nelson Mandela started and, we would like to think, of the journey for those in Wales and Britain who were in solidarity with him. The two most important social movements or institutions at the heart of that movement from beginning to end were the churches, led by the Welsh Council of Churches, and the trade union movement, led by the South Wales Miners Union.
My second memory is of two particular moments in Cardiff in December 1969, when Wales played the Springboks. First, when the main march came to the bottom of St Mary street, it met a separate march from the black community in Butetown, which unified with ours. It was led by the Cardiff International athletic club—the CIACs—with the banner that I understand was made specially for the occasion, and with one of its proudest members and sons, the late great Joe Erskine, the British and European boxing champion. Symbolically, the two marches unified at that point. A second, but sadder, moment was when one speaker said that it was a shame for Wales to have the people’s game played behind barbed wire. The one consolation was that there were more people on the demonstration than inside watching the match.
My third memory was of my late hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare and then for Cynon Valley, Ioan Evans, who did so much solidarity work in South Africa. He came with me to deliver a letter from the Bishop of Namibia in exile, Dr Colin Winter—he had been thrown out of Namibia for his solidarity work in support of striking miners there—urging the members of the Cwmbach male voice choir not to go to South Africa. I mention that choir’s name in tribute to them, because they eventually agreed not to go, and I salute them now, although I had never done so. I suppose that that is our little contribution to reconciliation.
Finally, I have a received memory, not a personal one. A matter of a few yards from this Chamber, the then Leader of the Opposition, Neil Kinnock—he played an enormous part in the anti-apartheid movement in Wales and Britain, and internationally—welcomed Nelson Mandela to the shadow Cabinet room in 1990. It was very striking that Nelson Mandela paused and looked at a particular Welsh miners’ banner that had been made in 1961, a year after the Sharpeville massacre. It was in the brilliant, beautiful colours of the African National Congress—black, green and gold. Importantly, the banner showed a white miner shaking hands with a black miner, with a miner’s lamp shining between them to symbolise the light of the world. I had arranged for the banner to be there, and I had insisted that the Welsh slogan, not the English one, was shown. Nelson Mandela was puzzled by the slogan, “Mewn undeb mae nerth a heddwch”—in unity there is strength and peace—and he asked about its significance and meaning. Neil Kinnock replied, “You will understand when I tell you that that is the banner from the South Wales miners. That is the Abercraf miners’ banner.” Neil said to me, with pride, that Nelson Mandela had said, “I do understand.”
I will end by telling the House that it has been arranged for that banner to return to the shadow Cabinet room. I spoke to the librarian of the South Wales Miners’ Library, Sian Williams, earlier today and she is happy for it to be returned. I suggest that it should be returned on the condition that it stays in the shadow Cabinet room in perpetuity, irrespective of who occupies that room, as a salute to Nelson Mandela, his comrades in the ANC and our comrades in the Anti-Apartheid Movement who did so much to remove apartheid in South Africa.
The House will want to join me in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) for his speech. If he will let me say something slightly less serious, I hope that the Labour party will go on enjoying that banner from now until kingdom come.
Today’s speeches make up a tapestry. Nelson Mandela was one of the first people I knew who argued for a non-racial South Africa—not a multiracial one, but a non-racial one. I ask this question as a challenge to us in this country: when will the colour of my skin be as important as, but no more important than, the colour of my eyes and the colour of my hair? We have not got that far yet.
By chance, I was young and in South Africa when the National party won the 1948 election. I was there at the opening of the Voortrekker monument. I had returned to this country when Smuts died.
I have a memory from 2002, during the Queen’s 50th anniversary on the throne, of going to the chapel at St James’s palace, where the tree with 54 leaves representing the Commonwealth members was unveiled. There, we saw the sight of Margaret Thatcher two places away from Nelson Mandela. It was one of those things that brings life in a full circle.
Margaret Thatcher has been wrongly quoted as saying that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. She may have said that the ANC was a terrorist organisation. Given that it was involved in sabotage, although it tried to avoid the loss of life, that was accurate. If one reads the book by Lord Renwick or his article in The Daily Telegraph today, one will see that her instruction to her diplomats was to try to get matters resolved. She certainly would not have sent Robin Renwick to South Africa as our ambassador if she had been supporting apartheid.
My father served as our ambassador to South Africa in the early 1970s. The only doubt about his taking the appointment came when the Prime Minister asked the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, “Is Jim Bottomley so much against apartheid that he will be no use as an ambassador?” Shortly after that, my mother arranged for Sam Moseneke, the principal of one of the big schools in Atteridgeville, to come and stay in our house with three of his colleagues. They said, “Do you know, where we are from, we would not be allowed to stay in your house?”
One of the groups that helped to make a difference was the churches, or at least some people in the churches. I pay tribute to Trevor Huddleston, who was a colleague of my tutor, Harry Williams, in the Community of the Resurrection. Having been picked as a novitiate to succeed his predecessor in Sophiatown, he was observed by a young man, aged about 14, lifting his hat as a mark of respect to that young man’s mother. The young man was Desmond Tutu, who went on to make his great contribution to the movement before the transition to one person, one vote, and after that to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Oom Bey, or Beyers Naude, of the Dutch Reformed Church said that people had a greater duty to God than to man. He refused to backtrack when the Dutch Reformed Church declared that his view of apartheid was wrong. There are others whom I could name.
We have to understand that a minority of people in this country took an active part in trying to challenge what appeared to be accepted. This year, there have been three deaths, which have not been noted by most people, two of former Members of the House of Commons and one of a former Member of the House of Lords. The former MPs were Charles Longbottom, who was the MP for York, and Barney Hayhoe, who was the MP for Isleworth. Both were trustees of the Ariel Foundation, together with Maurice Foley and Dennis Grennan, who had been a president of the National Union of Students. Some argue that it was funded by tobacco money, others by the CIA, but what is known for certain is that it funded education in this country for many potential African leaders, from Kenya through to Southern Rhodesia. Such people were prepared to stand against the prevailing wisdom.
Occasionally, South African ambassadors—I would particularly mention Dawie de Villiers, the rugby player—would invite Members of the House of Commons, including Conservatives, to come and meet visiting South African politicians. I remember Ronnie Bell saying, I think unwisely—maybe it was a joke—that South Africa should not extend the franchise as it had not proved to be a very good idea in this country.
What was more important was the ability to explain to some of the more verkrampte members of South Africa’s political elite that they could not pretend that they were protecting southern Africa from communism. Every person in Africa knew that communism meant that people could live only where the authorities said they could live, that they could take only the jobs that the authorities said that they could take and that they did not have an effective vote. Why would any African, especially a black African, want to go communist? One answer, I suppose, is that the communists in South Africa were one of the groups that were fighting with Nelson Mandela to try to overturn the apartheid system.
The third person I want to mention who died this year was a man called Robin Plunket, the 8th baron Plunket. He followed David Stirling, who created the Special Air Service in 1941 and the Capricorn Africa Society in 1949. Robin Plunket, with his wife Jennifer, went on to support the society from this country before going out to Southern Rhodesia in, I think, 1957. For 50 years he developed employment in timber growing, milling and the like. His advice was important for many of our diplomats and Ministers. Such quiet people helped to establish a basis of trust that I hope will continue.
The last point that I want to make about Nelson Mandela—leaving aside the anecdotes about how lucky we were to meet him, rather than the other way around—is about democracy within the ANC. When Mandela’s successor was voted out of the party leadership by a democratic vote of the party, the person who succeeded him then waited until the presidential election to become President. As far as I know, the ANC is probably the only African political party in which that would happen. In a way, that type of democracy should be better known and more often copied.
On Europe’s responsibility, the tragedy for Africa, if our longest-standing ally does not mind me saying so, is that if the Portuguese had let go of their colonies in the 1960s, the French, Belgians and British might have done better. Countries from central Africa down to South Africa might not all have been western-style democracies, but they would have been much more western-leaning and much more tolerant of people in their own midst, and economic development would have been greater.
I almost started by mentioning Trevor Huddleston, and I end with his “Prayer for Africa”:
“God Bless Africa;
Guard her children;
Guide her leaders
And give her peace.”
For an exhibition that it was planning to mount, the National Portrait Gallery asked me to nominate the three greatest figures of the 20th century and the reasons why. I nominated Winston Churchill for saving this country in the second world war, Mikhail Gorbachev for ending the cold war and Nelson Mandela for being Nelson Mandela.
The first time I met Nelson Mandela was when he visited Sweden after he had been released from prison. He said that Sweden was the country that had done most to help him be released, so he visited it first. It gave a grand state dinner, to which Neil Kinnock, as leader of the Labour party, and I as shadow Foreign Secretary were invited. The next day, Neil and I organised a private lunch for Nelson Mandela and his wife and friends.
Not long before that, during the first session of Prime Minister’s Question Time after Mandela’s release from prison—he was released on a Sunday, and in those days we had Prime Minister’s questions on Tuesdays—my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) rose and started her question with the words, to Margaret Thatcher,
“If the Prime Minister had just spent 27 years in prison”.—[Official Report, 13 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 140.]
I was sitting on the Front Bench, and I murmured to Roy Hattersley, “As she should.” The microphones caught my remark, and the entire House heard it. On the Conservative side, not surprisingly, there was extremely loud outrage. On our side, there were the best cheers I think I have ever had in the House of Commons.
At the lunch in Stockholm, when we were being introduced to our guests, Oliver Tambo’s wife came up to me and said, “You are the man who said that Margaret Thatcher should be in prison for 27 years.” At the end of the room was Winnie Mandela, and when Winnie heard that, she rushed over to me, hugged me, and said, “You are the man! You are the man!” As a result of that, Nelson Mandela very kindly gave me the following inscription:
“To Gorton Labour Party, with our comradely compliments and best wishes, Nelson Mandela”.
Apart from all his other virtues, he had the most beautiful handwriting. Added to that inscription was:
“Thank you for your solidarity.
That remained on the wall of Gorton Labour club for many years, until Winnie became renowned not so much for hugging as for putting burning tyres around the necks of her opponents, and it was taken down. It is on the wall in my house now.
At the lunch, Neil Kinnock asked Nelson Mandela about the visit to South Africa by a rebel English cricket team. There was a sporting and an entertainment boycott of South Africa at the time, but a group of very well-known English cricketers went there to play. Neil asked Nelson Mandela, “What do you think of the English cricketers who are in South Africa now?” Nelson Mandela said, “I admire them.” Neil said, “What? You admire them? Why? How can you?” Nelson Mandela said, “Because they are very brave. They knew before they came that there would be demonstrations outside the cricket grounds because they were there and breaking the boycott, and they came all the same.”
Somewhat later, when I was lunching with Nelson Mandela, I asked him—among a number of other things—what he had learnt in prison. He said that one of the things that had kept him going had been reading the memoirs of Menachem Begin, who started out as a terrorist—which Mandela did not—but became Prime Minister of Israel and made peace with Egypt. He was the last Prime Minister of Israel to make peace with anyone. I asked, “What did you learn from Menachem Begin’s memoirs?” He said, “Menachem Begin was in prison for a long time, and his book said that the most important thing to do if you were in prison was to sustain your values.” I do not think that Nelson Mandela needed to be taught that lesson, but—as has been said so widely in the House this afternoon—he certainly did sustain his values. He never, never, never took revenge of any kind. That was not because he was a softie. He was a tough man—you cannot get through 27 years in prison without being a tough man. But what he knew was that you can solve a huge political problem by being generous, forthcoming and reconciling, and that is what he did.
When I was shadow Foreign Secretary, I visited South Africa, then under apartheid, as a guest of the South African Council of Churches. I met Africans and I visited the townships, and I was followed wherever I went by the South African secret police. At a lunch in Durban with leading people, including Mbeki, I said, “I hope you’re not going to pick up the worst of the apartheid regime, and that you will be better than the apartheid regime ever could be when you, as you will, eventually achieve power in South Africa. In particular, I hope that you will not keep the death penalty, and that you will have liberal judicial policies.” Under Mandela, they did that, and it is hugely to the credit of Mandela and the ANC.
Too many other countries that have gained their freedom have nevertheless imposed penalties of the worst kind on their opponents. They were not saints who took over in South Africa, but they were good, sensible politicians, who knew that the best way of winning is by reconciling. That came so much from Mandela. His autobiography, “The Long Walk to Freedom”—I reviewed it and was proud to have my name on the dust cover—was written by him, not ghosted, and his personality comes out from every page. It said that people should be realistic and sensible in their politics and, at the same time, be forgiving and reconciliatory. We shall not see his like again.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today and to follow some extraordinarily powerful tributes from across the House.
Like many of my generation, it is no exaggeration for me to say that my political consciousness was framed against the backdrop of the fight against apartheid and the collapse of the cold war and the structures that it propped up. For the previous generation, it was perhaps the second world war and for some the civil rights struggle in the 1960s. But for me and many others in the Chamber, our political consciousnesses were awakened by the struggle to free Mandela and the tsunami of freedom from an age of cold war repression for which it served as a trumpet call around the globe.
I do not want in any way to claim or suggest that I was a leading light on the barricades of the 1980s—far from it—but I remember my first mini campaign in school. Like generations of morally indignant sixth-formers before me, I was smarting against all forms of lazy privilege, and I remember blasting out “Free Nelson Mandela” at the South African cricket team visiting my school from some speakers that I had erected on the clock tower for that purpose. My teachers did not share my enthusiasm, but I was glad to have done a little for the cause. It seemed to me that sports sanctions would be a way to put pressure on the regime without harming the most vulnerable in that country. I remember well the looks on the faces of those privileged young cricketers from one of South Africa’s elite public schools—confusion, anger, resentment and a little shame. It was a heady taste for me of what politics can do.
Three years later I graduated from university and saw, as we all did, his release in 1990, and was struck, after a lifetime behind bars, by the quiet dignity of his freedom, not determined for revenge, but eager for reconciliation. I also watched, rather sadly, as the party of which I am now proud to be a member found itself on the wrong side of that history and unable fully to grasp the scale of the yearning for new freedoms that followed the cold war certainties that had so shaped it—a misjudgment that I am pleased the now Prime Minister went out of his way to correct on becoming leader.
The next year I went to see South Africa for myself, hitch-hiking from Kenya to Cape Town, a 5,000-mile trip on which I was lucky enough to see that great continent in all its beauty, simplicity—then, poverty—and to see, in many impromptu games of football with groups of young African children, the love of sport, which Mandela was later to harness to such extraordinary effect.
When I arrived in Cape Town I was lucky enough to meet the grandson of a former Prime Minister of South Africa, the young Bool Smuts. I had the extraordinary experience of being taken back to the Smuts family homestead in the Drakensberg mountains, standing with Bool and seeing the homestead and Voortrekker Bible, and visiting with his brothers the local Afrikaans rugby club, where I entered into what can only be described as ambitious banter, as a young Englishmen, with those from a culture that I did not understand. I remember well the intensity—nay, the ferocity—of their belief in their way of life, and I remember reflecting later that if only the vastly more numerous Anglo or English South African white population had had the similar moral intensity to speak for their own convictions, the drama that was the late collapse of South African apartheid might have been avoided.
I remember very clearly my last three lifts one day on my way out of South Africa as they seemed to capture the story of that land: a priest, rather early in the morning and rather the worse for wear, taking Bibles up to Zambia; a young black business man in a suit and tie wanting peace and prosperity for his family and to build a career, representing the force of an aspirational, moderate black progressive middle-class that is today having such an effect across sub-Saharan Africa; and, my last and most shocking lift, a fully paid-up member of the AWB, a farmer in a pick-up truck, who at the end of our two-hour journey lifted the bench-chair of his pick-up and showed me the guns with which he promised he would fight for what he saw as his freedom, saying, “Boy, when they come for me, they’ll take me out dead.”
I left a country on the brink of civil war, with cities poised to convulse in violence, and it was evident to me then that the triumph of Mandela was the stuff not of Hollywood and red carpet leadership, as it can sometimes seem in retrospect, but of the brutal realities of township politics, because Mandela was, above all, a politician, answering the ultimate test of leadership: how to heal a broken nation, how to avoid civil war, how to unite a deeply divided set of peoples.
I saw during my visit that South Africa did not just require symbolism, however valuable that was; it also needed statesmanship, and few other than Mandela could have fulfilled what history demanded of him at that time. Who can forget the sight of him dressed in that Springbok rugby top cheering the South African rugby world cup success, healing a nation and resetting it towards the path of a better future? Having seen for myself the intensity of the association between the Boer culture, rugby and apartheid, it was a stunning act of generous reconciliation. For me it marked a personal end-point, from demonstrating at the departing all-white schoolboy cricket team, to visiting the Afrikaans rugby club, to watching him clad in green that day, I could see the power of reconciliation work its magic through the medium of sport. Rugby, once a symbol of division, was now a symbol of unity, an iconic image for South Africa, for sport and for the world. And we can all remember his historic decision to stand down from the presidency after one term, a single action which spoke more than any words.
In an age of disillusionment with politics, when voters in this country and elsewhere all too often unite in distrust of the political process, Mandela stands out as a shining example to us all of what we can aspire to: a politics not of tit-for-tat, back-stabbing, plotting and skulduggery, but of statesmanship, empathy, hope and vision, and most of all a statesmanship and politics founded on the quality Aristotle called “ethos”, which is what we define as character, and in him was a duty to people, place and country before party.
Few figures light up an age as Mandela did. His courage, his courtesy and his character must remind us of what politics can achieve. Let us, as parliamentarians, all be inspired by his example.
I am sure all hon. Members will understand the emotion of an eight-year-old or nine-year-old child growing up in what feels like a very local or parochial context, be it in a village, a town, a hamlet or a street in a constituency such as mine. Having listened to this afternoon’s debate, I want to begin by reflecting on young people during the late-1960s, 1970s and 1980s growing up in places such as Tottenham, Brixton, Handsworth in Birmingham, Chapeltown in Leeds and St Paul’s in Bristol. It is sometimes dislocating when you arrive in a country and you are the child of immigrants. Thinking back to the 1970s and 1980s, I hope that all hon. Members will recognise the difficulty felt by many young people, particularly young boys from West Indian backgrounds, the challenges we were having with the police and the huge challenges that this country was having with throwing up role models we could land on and aspire to—we still have that debate in this House today.
As one of those young people, who was also growing up in the context of not having a father in my house—broken, to some extent, by two successive recessions and some of the discrimination of that age, he left us when I was 12—I am truly grateful for the role model that was Nelson Mandela. For me and so many like me, he provided a tremendous dignity and courage, which perhaps was the reason why during the very difficult 1980s we did not pick up Molotov cocktails and cause chaos on our own streets—we chose another path. He was that role model: as an articulate lawyer; as a freedom fighter; as a prisoner—it is important to land on that period in prison, because none of us knew what he looked like and he was just that image of a boxer that we had to hold on to; as a man who walks out of prison so many years later, with grey hair and his wife; as a politician; as a leader; and as an elder statesman. Like so many others becoming aware of our own context, I could have felt very small in that context, in the face of poverty and sometimes discrimination, but he and so many others helped me to feel very large and very big.
I am truly grateful to have been born and raised in, and to represent a seat in, the London borough of Haringey. Haringey was one of the centres in London of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. We are very proud of a house on Windermere road—the house of Oliver Tambo and the house where Mbeki came and stayed. It is a house now owned by the South African Government, because it is so important to them. It was an enclave for many who surreptitiously campaigned, found money and supported what was originally an underground movement that was moving to be an overground movement.
It would be remiss of me if I did not pay tribute to my predecessor, Bernie Grant, who endlessly, and unpopularly at the time, campaigned consistently, first as a local councillor in Haringey, then as the leader of Haringey council and then in this place, for Nelson Mandela’s freedom. He was hugely proud to be with Jesse Jackson in 1990 when Mandela walked out of prison.
I am also grateful to Mike Terry, who led the Anti-Apartheid Movement from the London borough of Haringey—he was a teacher at Alexandra Park secondary school at the time—and to many others in this Chamber. As teenagers, we would all have been aware of the work of my right hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Mr Hain), for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and of Richard Caborn, the former Member for Sheffield Central, all of whom pushed the cause on behalf of many others.
This is not a time for rancour. It is hugely important to be inspired by the manner in which Nelson Mandela conducted himself. A word that has often been lost in the context of these times is “solidarity”. Who will stand with me even though they are different from me? I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement long before I joined the Labour party. I joined it to stand with others who looked like me, but who were experiencing the most pernicious discrimination and nastiness across the world. I proudly boycotted Barclays bank, Cape apples, avocados and a whole stream of other things to join in that solidarity. I was incensed when Mike Gatting took a team to South Africa to play cricket because of the brutality that I saw in front of my eyes.
We have arrived now at a different place, and that is why, for me, Nelson Mandela is the seminal figure of the 20th century. If the story of the 20th century can be summed up in one word, that word must be “freedom”. I am talking about the freedom for people to be who they want to be in their own lifetime. We take it for granted that in that century, women could not be who they wanted to be and working people could not always be who they wanted to be, whatever the colour of their skin. The same goes for black people and people of colour. More recently, we have faced those battles on behalf of gay men and women. That is the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Perhaps he has that legacy because, unlike Martin Luther King, Gandhi and, before them, Abraham Lincoln, he was not shot and killed. Yes, he was in prison for 27 years, but I think that Members will recognise that in making it to 95, he was free for more years than some of us will be on this planet. That is a great thing. He was a great man whom we will remember and whom history will remember.
When we think of Mandela, it is also important that we do not forget those other young men and women from countries such as India, Nigeria, Guyana, where my parents are from, Jamaica and so many other places who were fighting against a colonial power that effectively took the view that a small minority can govern a majority. It may not have been as pernicious and nasty as what we saw on our screens in the 1970s and 1980s, but sometimes it was. Mandela sits with those other figures such as Nyerere, Kenyatta and others who fought for liberation. That is why he meant so much in my small house in Tottenham.
I beg the indulgence of the House, as I have not been able to be present for the entirety of the proceedings. As chair of the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I should like to put some words on the record.
I will not claim the eloquence of some of the speeches that have been made in the House today. I cannot claim the intimacy of knowledge and companionship with the late Nelson Mandela, which many in this House have been able to explain, nor can I boast that I have been at all times as resolute and as staunch an opponent of apartheid as many colleagues present in the House today.
I first went to South Africa, particularly Cape Town and Johannesburg, on company business in my first job in 1962. If I had not been aware, as an embryo politician, of the wickedness of the apartheid system, it was really brought home to me then. I saw the evil and rottenness of it all, and was able to speak thereafter with more passion about those matters.
Ten years later, in 1972, I was with a CPA delegation that was moving through South Africa from St Helena to a conference in Malawi. There had been the so-called easing of restrictions, which seemed to do no more than underline the hypocrisy of the whole system. I did not return again to South Africa until after the miracle that Nelson Mandela helped to achieve and inspired.
For many years, I gloomily thought, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said, that the whole thing could only end in bloodshed. It is the most fundamental tribute to Nelson Mandela that the force of his personality ensured that it did not end in such a way. The whole world, not just those in South Africa, should be grateful not just for that, but for the signposting of a way forward out of conflicts, which other countries in the world still have to learn.
Nelson Mandela took the most remarkable actions. Compassion, courage and leadership are words that will be used over and again. They may be overworked in this debate, but why should they not be, given what he managed to achieve and the inspiration he gave to his fellow countrymen. We hope that that will be repeated again and again from generation to generation because there is such a long way to go in South Africa to sustain the turnaround that Nelson Mandela achieved.
I was back in South Africa a few months ago, as chair of the whole CPA, for the CPA’s 59th conference, which was hosted by the South African Parliament. It is a strong, democratic Parliament, and one of the leading players in the Commonwealth constellation. I thought how far we had come from what I had first seen in 1962. The strong parliamentary traditions that are being observed in South Africa—they are probably not perfect, but we do not think our systems are entirely perfect—are the proper bases of parliamentary democracy. Again, that is down to the inspiration of Nelson Mandela. I hope that that will be repeated again and again and will inspire generations of South Africans to respect the parliamentary institutions, which, if properly applied, can lead to the fulfilment of the wishes of the ordinary people of South Africa.
To my mind, Nelson Mandela is one of the most amazing men to have trod the planet. So many evil people in history have been seen as giants, ogres or whatever, mainly because they have been bad men. It is to be hoped that this very good man will be remembered for ever, that his shadow will be cast forward and that everyone in the future, particularly in South Africa but on a wider basis too, will bathe in that shadow and realise what it is that makes a good politician, makes a statesman and makes a humanitarian of the highest order.
I do not wish to detain the House long, but I thought I ought to say a few words.
In the 1960s, I, like many young men, saw the events in South Africa on television and in newspapers now and again and felt, as most people did, that that country was split on racial lines—indeed, other countries were split on racial lines as well.
I did not really understand what was happening in South Africa until in 1975 I left my small mining community and went to Ruskin college in Oxford. The college had a Kitson committee, named after David Kitson, who was one of the prisoners in South Africa at the time. He had been born in South Africa and had been over here working in industry for a while. He went to Ruskin on a trade union scholarship and was in jail in South Africa. I went to the first meeting of the Kitson committee and ended up being active in it later on. One of my fellow students told us about her life and her journey. She was from South Africa and had come out of South Africa in the boot of a car. She told us what apartheid was—it was not just segregation between white and blacks, but segregation over several areas. She said that she fitted into one of what were called the “Cape Coloureds” categories. She also said that she and her brother were at different schools. They lived with their family in their house, but they were at schools that were next to each other and when they used to share their sandwiches through the school railings they were shouted at by the pupils for mixing with the students in the school next door. Her brother was her twin brother. They had been born within minutes of one another and apartheid had segregated them because that was how the system worked. I could not understand how anybody anywhere could do that to anybody and I became active in anti-apartheid for many years. I remember Mike Terry very well and Charlotte street, as we used to go up there quite a lot, and I was active in the trade union movement, too. Her name was Rita Taberner, and she said something that has stayed with me all my life: how could politicians and Governments do such things to their own people? It is extraordinary that that could happen.
I have two other reflections, and the first is about when Mandela came out of prison. It was a Sunday—I remember it well. I had just left the Leader of the Opposition’s office, but I phoned him up and he was watching it, too. We could not believe what we were seeing. It was a bit like the Berlin wall. I never thought I would ever see the Berlin wall come down or that apartheid would end. Those were the two things in my politics of the ’60s and ’70s that I thought were there for life, and to see that happening was extraordinary. Of course, that was no easy journey for Nelson Mandela. He was dealing with the tensions in the ANC between where he wanted to go and where other members of the ANC wanted to go. Some did not think that that was the way forward; I understand that peace and reconciliation was his brainchild and that he had to fight hard for it to work. Many of us thought that it would end up in a bloodbath in South Africa—after my experience of 1975, I would not have been at all surprised if that had been the case. That was the level of the man and the people around him who wanted to go that way for South Africa and its people.
My other memory is from when Mandela spoke in Westminster Hall. One of your predecessors, Mr Speaker, Baroness Boothroyd—who is in the other place now—walked down the steps with him. She remembered that she had been part of the British black sash movement who used to stand outside South Africa house wearing black sashes, just as women in South Africa used to stand in Pretoria and other places wearing black sashes to complain against the regime, and she never thought that she would see such a speech happening.
Nelson Mandela was a giant of a man and the world has much to learn from what he did. We will have to wait to see whether the world is capable of doing that, but I wanted to pay my tribute to somebody who shaped my politics even though I was thousands of miles away.
I cannot compete with some of the moving and absolutely amazing stories of personal interaction with Nelson Mandela that we have heard today. I met him only once, along with 5,000 other people, in Trafalgar square in November 2010. His speech was as electrifying as the shirt he was wearing. I knew that I was in the presence of an exceptional human being and I am simply one of the millions who was moved and encouraged by his story of fortitude as he attempted to change the world around him—and succeeded in that attempt—which we have heard expressed so passionately by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and I am sure that the House is too, for interrupting our normal proceedings to pay tribute to the life of an incredible man. He stands head and shoulders above any other in shaping and influencing our modern world.
Some might say that Nelson Mandela was destined to lead. First, coming from a family with heritage and influence, he was politically motivated from an early age, studying law, opening the first black law firm in South Africa and focusing on human rights. That background, coupled with his unique style of leadership, convinced his peer group that he was worth supporting in the fight against apartheid. He displayed a rare combination of determination, humility and integrity, willing to engage with the hotel porter he met in passing with the same energy and enthusiasm as with the VIP guest he had arranged to meet. To put it simply, he had enormous personal presence, not just because of his rank or appointment but because of his infectious smile, his provoking message and his tenacity and endurance in thinking that good would triumph in the end.
His political activities saw him tried and imprisoned for 27 years. Who would have thought that just four years after his release apartheid would be over and Nelson Mandela would be President? As many others have, I visited Robben Island off Cape Town and peered through the bars of Nelson Mandela’s cell. It is very hard to imagine anyone emerging from such an experience without feeling embittered towards their captors, so it was with some apprehension that South Africa, and the world, waited to see what Nelson Mandela would do with his power as President and where the country would go. He continued, after all, to have strong ties with Russia and the South African Communist party. Such was his popularity that he had almost a free mandate to take South Africa in any direction he chose.
I recall Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. I was president of Loughborough student union at the time and I must confess that that was an academic establishment that was as yet unknown as a cauldron of simmering political activity. I recall that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) was the president of the National Union of Students at the time and we conversed on many occasions. We debated a motion at Loughborough students union to change the name of the union building to the “Nelson Mandela building”—something that many other universities had already done. At Loughborough, perhaps unwisely, the motion was defeated, because although Nelson Mandela’s cause was very much supported, students were not sure where he would take South Africa, bearing in mind the fact that the ANC still had an extremist wing. It is perhaps that second significant chapter of his life, evolving from a campaigner to a statesman, that distinguishes him from many others who have liberated their country, then taken the reins of power. Perhaps the best and saddest example is Robert Mugabe, not far away in Africa, who not only failed to endorse any system of democracy but continues corrupt practices to retain power, as well as encouraging racial division and, indeed, hatred of Britain, the former colonial power.
Nelson Mandela’s ability to face down hardliners in his own party and convince a sceptical white community helped South Africa to re-engage with the world community. In government, he proved to be pragmatic and even-handed, taking time to look at and, indeed, learn from a number of models of government, and working with de Klerk, who had his own task of winning over people with extremist views if civil war was to be avoided. How different things might be, for example, had Mandela not supported the freedom of the press or an independent judiciary. Establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a stroke of genius—a concept that has been copied, but not used as successfully, in countries attempting to heal the wounds of division.
Most astonishingly, as has been said by hon. Members, Mandela stood for only one term—perhaps a lesson for us all in recognising our sell-by date. Interestingly, such was his ability to reach across divides, even in death his work continues. Attending the memorial service alongside obvious leaders such as the Prime Minister and President Obama will be President Castro of Cuba and the new Iranian President Rouhani. Who knows what diplomatic developments might result from an imaginative seating plan?
There are difficult questions for the ANC now that it has lost its iconic figurehead, and it must ensure that South Africa’s multiracial free-market democracy can flourish. Those are questions, however, for another day, and Britain’s involvement in that is for another day too. Today and this week are about saying goodbye to a man who survived and defeated apartheid, and united a country. Sadly—and this applies only to a minority—some people have questioned why in this country so much attention has been given to Nelson Mandela’s death. A small but arguably growing slice of our society takes for granted the leadership and sacrifices that he and others closer to home have made. I pondered that very point this weekend, as on television tributes to Nelson Mandela contrasted with reality TV shows on which household names are engineered.
That raises awkward questions for us in the House, as some members of the younger generation know more about James Arthur, perhaps not the best role model, than leaders who triumphed over adversity to give us the very freedoms that we could be in danger of taking for granted. Thankfully, many people of our generation have been inspired by Nelson Mandela and others to recognise how their own high profile can be used to shape a better world. AIDS awareness is a clear example of that. Rightly, they will take their seat alongside world statesmen at the funeral this week.
I am pleased that the House can pay tribute to Nelson Mandela today. We cannot match the wonderful poetry, the song and the colour that we have seen on our screens displayed by the people of South Africa as they remember the architect of their country. As we consider Nelson Mandela’s legacy I hope that we all recognise, learn and gain inspiration from one individual who became a global symbol of tolerance in standing against injustice, regardless of the odds.
I regret the fact that I never had the privilege and honour of meeting Nelson Mandela personally although, as with everyone else in the Chamber, his life touched my and my constituents’ lives very deeply.
I knew about the awful phenomenon of apartheid when I was at school—we all knew about it vaguely—but it was not until I went to university in 1970 that I became truly aware of the depth of disgust for it. Together with opposition to the Vietnam war, it occupied me and many others in a Welsh university known as a hotbed of Welsh nationalism. However, we had outside interests, and those were two of them. Yes, I am proud that there is a Mandela building at Aberystwyth university.
There have been many fine tributes today. It is not my job to go through them, but they are all heartfelt and sincere. Something that occurs when someone of the stature of the late President Mandela passes away is a scramble for superlatives. Sometimes that is tiresome, because superlatives do not always fit. In this case, the superlatives all fit, because his life was beyond comparison so, by definition, superlatives apply. I believe, like many people in the Chamber and throughout Britain, Europe and the world, that he was the greatest statesman of the last century. To spend 27 years in prison, many of them in solitary confinement, with no contact with the outside world, and on release not to have any rancour, still less hatred or vengeance, is truly remarkable. Like the right hon. Members for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), I was in the audience in 1996 when the President addressed both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. He made a memorable and moving speech, typically fitting for the occasion, honest and completely down to earth. In many ways, he showed humility and strength of character beyond reproach, and I will always remember that day.
We gather today to thank Nelson Mandela for the many sacrifices that he endured, for showing the way to reconciliation and peace, against massive and seemingly insurmountable odds. It has been said, and I believe it to be right—I referred to the use of superlatives—that he was a colossus of history. I believe that he will continue to inspire millions of people for many years to come, and rightly so. There have been many quotations today from many wonderful speeches that he made down the years. May I remind the Chamber that he also said that there will never be world peace without a resolution of the Palestinian conflict? Perhaps the greatest tribute that we can pay him is to redouble our efforts to achieve that in his glorious memory.
Like the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), I am moved to contribute because of my abiding memory of that glorious afternoon in 1996 when Nelson Mandela addressed both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, and of a tremendous speech by Baroness Boothroyd. If I recall rightly, Barack Obama said that Mandela’s speech was a very hard act to follow indeed.
If you visit Robben Island, Mr Speaker, and see that tiny cell you realise how Nelson Mandela is—and I mean “is”—a shining beacon to people across the world suffering the humiliation and brutality of repressive regimes. Neither 27 long years in prison nor the shackles of an unashamedly racist political system prevented him from making not just his corner of the world but the whole world a better place. He was a great leader, an intuitive politician and one of the outstanding figures of modern time.
Owing to the hour, I make just one further point. Mandela forgave the unforgivable. His passing will serve to remind us all that fairness, logic, perseverance and forgiveness can overcome prejudice and the darkest aspects of human nature. As the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I look at tensions in Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria, and conflicts throughout Africa. That perseverance and forgiveness is a lesson that a troubled world should never forget.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. I will try to be brief because so many brilliant contributions have been made today by people who fought the good fight to try to rid the world of the scourge of apartheid.
I want us to recall the many people who died in South Africa fighting against apartheid, from those who were discriminated against from 1948 onwards, when the National party won the election, to the massacre at Sharpeville, the riots in Soweto, the killing of schoolchildren and the murder of Steve Biko and so many others who died, often completely ignored and forgotten. We should also recall the poverty of the black majority population in South Africa—a poverty inherited from colonialism, a poverty arising from work in the mines and so many other places, a poverty of children going to school where there was no water, no electricity, no books and very little else, and unbelievable discrimination in employment, land ownership and everything else. It was a system of dividing people on racial grounds that the Nazis would have been proud of. The idea that there would be some sort of accommodation with apartheid was something that many of us found anathema.
It was not as though the evil of apartheid extended only to the country of South Africa. It extended to the neighbouring states and greatly influenced the white supremacist regime in Rhodesia led by Ian Smith. It also included the war in Namibia—South West Africa, as it was then called—and it spread over into the problems faced by all the front-line states during the apartheid era because of their wish to impose sanctions on South Africa. It also spread over into Angola. The war in Angola was one of the turning points in the defeat of apartheid. Let us remember that it was the South African defence forces that went to the aid of another minority regime in Angola, and they were finally defeated in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988. Those were the significant changes that brought about a political reckoning in South Africa.
Those around the world who would recognise only the ANC and would not recognise the Government of South Africa are the ones we should also remember today—those people all around the world who took part in meetings, marches and demonstrations, and many Governments who bravely stood against the apartheid regime when it was in their economic interests to go in absolutely the opposite direction. There are therefore some very strong lessons for all of us to learn during our remembrance of Nelson Mandela.
The personality of Mandela was an extraordinary one. I was asked a question when I was visiting Holloway school last Friday morning and went into a history lesson. There was a discussion about the civil rights movement in the USA, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain and of course the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa. The students asked me whether Mandela would have been a better or worse president if he had never gone to prison. It is an impossible question to answer. All I could say was that I remember distinctly my mother telling me how evil the Rivonia treason trial and the Sharpeville massacre were, and how wrong it was that Mandela and all the others went to prison. In their suffering they obviously read and learned a great deal. In his final unconditional release from prison—it is very important to remember that it was an unconditional release from prison; he was offered all sorts of get out of jail cards many years beforehand—he displayed such amazing magnanimity.
I recall that when Mandela came here to Parliament shortly after his release—he was not President of South Africa at that time—there were Conservative MPs who wanted the meeting banned. There were people who said no MP should attend it. There were people who said that he was a terrorist. There were people who said that people like him should not be allowed into Parliament, but I remember the very good discussion that was held here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) was there, as were Richard Caborn, chair of the anti-apartheid group, Bob Hughes, Tony Benn and many others. We had a truly fascinating discussion with a very great man who was forming his ideas of how he would lead a post-apartheid, multiracial, rainbow nation of South Africa.
I want to conclude with some thoughts about the people who were in prison with Mandela and also suffered a great deal. My constituency, Islington North, is a place where many people have sought refuge at various times and have been welcomed. I was very proud that David Kitson, one of those imprisoned with Mandela, lived in my constituency for a long time. Denis Goldberg, who was also in prison with Mandela, lived nearby and ran a bookshop for a charity called Community HEART which still exists, collecting books to be sent to schools in South Africa. We also housed the offices of the British defence and aid fund for victims of apartheid. I was a trustee of that, with the great Ethel de Keyser and others. We were able to fund education for victims of apartheid and do our bit to try to help the next generation of African leaders who had been born in the front-line states in exile camps to get some kind of university education. Many people did incredible work in that regard.
My local authority, Islington borough council, declared itself an apartheid-free zone. This was not universally welcomed by the Evening Standard, the Conservative Government or many others. In saying that, I look at my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). Many of us who were involved in local government or as Members of Parliament during the 1970 and 1980s did our bit. Okay, it might be said that it is gesture politics to name a street Mandela street or to name your student union building the Nelson Mandela building, but in that act you are showing which side you are on in the battle against apartheid. When we were being condemned by the media at that time, I always thought, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for they know not what they do.” Now they are all agreeing with us, as unfortunately they were unable to do at that time. Many of those who stood up then were in advance of others.
We also housed in my borough the offices of the African National Congress at Penton street. That building was under the most massive surveillance from the Metropolitan police, the South African secret service and every other secret service one could imagine. Indeed, the Anti-Apartheid Movement was infiltrated. The ANC offices were infiltrated. There were some ghastly goings-on in London via the long reach of the South African secret service. Also under surveillance and questioning were the offices of the South West Africa People’s Organisation, SWAPO, which had its offices in Gillespie road in my constituency.
A number of parliamentary colleagues of mine, including the late great Tony Banks and Stuart Holland, a former Member, and I were arrested outside South Africa house. It was one of those strange moments when you are arrested by the police and you say, “On what charge am I arrested?”, assuming that one is going be told that one is creating an obstruction or some such charge. The police said no, it was under the Diplomatic Immunities Act, for behaviour that was offensive to a foreign diplomatic mission. The police officer asked me, “What do you plead? Why have you come here?”. I said, “I’ve come here to be as offensive as possible to the South African apartheid regime, but I offer no plea, so you will have to offer a plea of not guilty on my part.” The cases all went to court and we were all exonerated on the grounds of our moral outrage at apartheid and all given compensation, and all that compensation was given to the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Some things do come full circle in the end.
Finally, in thanking so many people for all their work in the Anti-Apartheid Movement I must mention my friend the late great Bernie Grant, who went to South Africa to witness the release of Nelson Mandela. When he returned, Margaret Thatcher invited him to Downing street to discuss what he thought about it all—it must have been a pretty surreal moment for both of them. I hope that a record of the meeting was kept, but I imagine that its release is subject to the 100-year rule, or perhaps a million-year rule. I can well imagine what Bernie would have said, but I am not sure about the leaderene.
There are lessons to be learned from all that, so I will conclude with the following thoughts. After his release, Mandela of course became President of South Africa and did enormous and wonderful work, but poverty has not been conquered there. There are still children who need better schools and people who need homes, electricity and water, as Denis Goldberg reminded us at a Community HEART fundraiser. But Mandela also had things to say about other issues around the world. He was deeply concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people and sent them messages of support, not because he wanted the conflict to continue but because he wanted it to end.
Another of Mandela’s great legacies was to say, as President, that he did not wish to preside over a Government who had nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. He took South Africa out of the nuclear equation, thus enabling Africa to become a nuclear weapons-free continent. There are many lessons we can learn from that. In Nelson’s memory, let us change things a bit here. That will make for a better, safer and more peaceful world.
Order. We have already heard some magnificent tributes of great power and passion. It might be helpful to the House if I tell colleagues that approximately 40 right hon. and hon. Member are still seeking to catch my eye. I am keen for everyone who wants to speak to have the chance to do so, but as things stand the Chair was anticipating the Front Bench winding-up speeches starting a little after half-past 9. That might serve to concentrate the minds of colleagues, who I know will be considerate to each other. I do not want to impose a formal time limit, because I think that this is an occasion when self-restraint is a better guide, on which theme I look in the direction of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood).
I hesitate to rise and echo the tributes of so many eloquent speakers. I think that the one contribution Mandela made that has not yet been mentioned was his founding, in retirement, of the global group The Elders, along with his wife Graça Machel, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan and others, at a time when surely he had earned the right to put his feet up and spend more time with his family. He was a truly extraordinary man.
I am also slightly daunted, because I think that this is the first time in a parliamentary debate that I have followed three leaders of my party. Honourable mention should also be made of one of their predecessors in particular, David Steel, who was president of the Anti-Apartheid Movement before becoming leader of the Liberal party. I am not sure whether he would ever admit to having been inspired by the example of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) when he was in the National League of Young Liberals—it is a shame that he is no longer in his place, because I mean this as a compliment—but the flame that burnt brightly in the movement in his era was still pretty bright a generation later, when I was very proud, as chair of the Union of Liberal Students, to invite Donald Woods to be that year’s keynote conference speaker.
Donald Woods was an anti-apartheid activist and a banned journalist who helped, along with Helen Zille of the Rand Daily Mail, to expose to the world the murder of Steve Biko, which of course denied South Africa another potential great leader. That is a salutary lesson about how many people lost their lives in the struggle and how, when Mandela said at the Rivonia trial that his ideals were ones for which he was prepared to die, that was no rhetoric, because he faced the imminent possibility of the death sentence. How different history might have been if that had been the outcome.
It was one thing to be a liberal and an opponent of apartheid in this country, but it was quite another to be that in South Africa. Alan Paton and the Liberal Party of South Africa were increasingly militant opponents of apartheid there. It was a Liberal party activist, Eddie Daniels, who was the first person Helen Suzman met on her first visit to Robben Island. He famously told her, “Don’t waste time talking to us. Go and talk to Mandela at the end of the row. He’s our leader.” It was an early indication of the extraordinary way in which Mandela reached out to people beyond his own natural constituency and to those from different political backgrounds and traditions in South Africa. Daniels was sentenced to 15 years at Robben Island for violent sabotage, and he served every day of it because he refused to renounce the armed struggle. Sometimes we have to be prepared to fight for freedom.
The Liberal Party of South Africa faced being banned in 1968 for the appalling crime of having party members who were from different races. It chose to disband, rather than accept that outcome. For decades it looked as though moderate voices were likely to be drowned out in South Africa. We had the likes of Eugene Terreblanche on the extreme right and some extreme voices on the other side making it look as though the only possible outcome was a bloodbath. It is an extraordinary testament to Nelson Mandela and the others who led the ANC and other political parties at the time that they managed to achieve a peaceful transition not only to a multiracial South Africa, but to a multi-party democracy.
A few weeks ago I was honoured to meet three inspiring young people—I would like to read their names into the record, because they represent the future of South Africa—Mondli Zondo, Lidia Rauch and Rishigen Virenna. They are members of the young leaders programme of the Democratic Alliance, the party now led by the former Rand Daily Mail journalist Helen Zille. They are too young to remember watching Mandela walking free from prison or that extraordinary moment—I remember being glued to the television—when he stood to be sworn in as President, listening not only to “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” but to “Die Stem”. What a picture of reconciliation that was. I remember fighting back tears while watching it. Those three young people were certainly too young to have bought The Special A.K.A.’s “Free Nelson Mandela” the first time around. I showed my age by telling them about it.
In the 1960s, those three young people would have been called a black, a white and an Indian. It is thanks to Nelson Mandela and the struggle he led that today they are simply called South Africans. It is thanks to Nelson Mandela and the struggle he led that they are free to post pictures of themselves embracing each other on Facebook regardless of race. They are free to take up political causes. They are free, if they so choose, to oppose the ANC Government. I hope that young people like them and the new generation of South Africans remember, and that we never forget, that it was Nelson Mandela and the others who led that struggle who helped to make that possible. Thanks to Nelson Mandela and those who supported him in the struggle, those young people today are simply free.
Order. I know that Mr Speaker mentioned the number of Members who wish to speak. We will not impose a time limit, but I suggest that Members should limit their speeches to five minutes, because I do not want to see anyone miss out.
This is one of those occasions when everyone starts by saying that they are speaking on behalf of their constituents. It is something we often claim, but it is undoubtedly true on both sides of the House today. Many Members have begun their remarks by suggesting that everything has already been said, but each and every Member has found something genuinely new to share with the House. I hope that I can follow in that sprit.
I remember the first day I arrived in South Africa. I was 12 years old and had rarely been outside Glasgow, let alone travelled abroad. Unemployment at home had led my family to emigrate, to swap our Glasgow housing estate for the sunshine of Cape Town. The truth is that I had not properly prepared, or been properly prepared, for what would confront me in the shape of apartheid. Back then, to the extent that Nelson Mandela could be said to have mainland neighbours, I was one of them, because my family lived in what was probably the third closest building to Robben Island.
I remember the little things that would give me and others a sense of the bigger picture of apartheid. In the first week after we arrived, our family tried to form a friendship with the taxi driver who picked us up from Jan Smuts airport and his family. We suggested what was natural in a city surrounded by two oceans: a game of football on the beach. But for all the dramatic sandy beaches along the city’s two coastlines, we ended up on a dangerous, rocky, uneven pebble beach—all because, of course, the family with whom we were trying to forge a friendship were designated Cape coloureds. Apartheid granted to the black majority only the minority of beaches that were deemed too dangerous for white people to swim off.
As I stood on those mornings at my whites-only bus stop in my whites-only housing area to travel to a whites-only school, I could see Robben Island each and every day. Of course, Nelson Mandela was banned; people could not utter his name and it was a criminal offence to carry his picture. But there it was—his island prison, in full and clear view in Table bay for the city and the whole world to see and to know what was going on.
Occasionally we would see the violence ourselves in the city streets, and the protests and the actions of the authorities, but we would never hear about it on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s TV or radio news; we would need to listen to the BBC World Service on a small wireless in our house before we knew what was actually happening almost on our own doorstep. I was entitled to South African citizenship but I did not take it up, nor did I serve in the South African army. I left the country, and left my family there, when South Africa invited me, as it did every white teenage boy at the age of 17, to be conscripted into the apartheid army.
Ours was an ANC-supporting family. There are lovely pictures of my mother and the rest of the family standing in the long queue on election day with their ANC flags, in what was meant to be a secret ballot. It was not as though the ANC had not on occasion tested our family’s patience or loyalty, including way back in 1982 when it blew up the power station that my father had gone to build when we went there as immigrants.
Of course, Umkhonto we Sizwe took care to make sure that it happened on a Saturday when no one was working on the building site, and no one was injured.
What was striking was the demonisation of Nelson Mandela, which was every bit as passionate as today’s speeches in this House in praise of him. We were told he was the reason there could not be a democracy, because he would take charge and turn the country to bloodshed. To understand Mandela’s achievement, we have fully to grasp the enormity of the fear that the white minority were encouraged to feel.
The state was structured to sustain apartheid in every possible way. Among many things, I was taught at school that apartheid was the natural order and was encouraged by the established Church to believe that it was the will of God—I remember being told that by a church minister. It was compulsory to learn Afrikaans. It would have been entirely understandable—regrettable, of course, but understandable—if the majority had sought revenge, because, after all, many of the black South Africans were treated worse than dogs by the white minority.
The Mandela of the state’s fabrication and the supremacists’ imagination was the rallying point against majority rule. When the time came for Mandela to cast his first vote at the age of 75, he was the bridge that most South Africans tentatively—initially—stepped across into liberation and, for them, the enormous perceived uncertainty of that democracy.
I say gently, in keeping with the tone of today’s contributions, that I do not believe that the British Government’s record on South Africa in that era will be judged with any sense of generosity. Apartheid South Africa was a cancer on a continent, but it was dealt with through the prism of the power politics of strategic cold war interests. It was allowed to destabilise not only its own country but Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South-West Africa, as it was called, and many others besides. That is why I am so proud that my home city of Glasgow was the first city in the world to grant its freedom to the man imprisoned off the shore of my then adopted city.
Like others, I want to thank the many people involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Long before the rock concerts and the well-intentioned celebrity endorsements, they stood unglamorously on street corners asking people to sign a petition in honour of someone they had probably never heard of. That movement taught us that the simple act of not buying South African apples is a statement in itself, and that, in the right circumstances, politics and sport could and should mix. Anyone who says that sport and politics should never mix does not fully understand what happened in South Africa.
Many have spoken about the engaging nature of President Mandela. I can only turn to a story from my own mother. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) spoke about his mother’s fantastic relationship and friendship with Nelson Mandela. I cannot boast anything of that order. However, my mother never tires of telling me the story of one day when she was in Cape Town; I was not living there at the time. She was, as many people do, walking with her head down through the city streets during her lunch break, and she bumped into someone she only knew was a tall man. She looked up, and it was not just a tall man—it was Nelson Mandela. They spoke, and he inquired as to who she was, what she did, what she believed in, and what she thought. She said, “I apologise, Mr Mandela”—I do not know what was going on his mind; perhaps he was thinking, “She’s not going to vote for me”, which of course she did—“I do hope you don’t mind, but I have to get back to work, so we have to stop our conversation.” I do not know whether my mother is the only person who has done this.
When Mandela came to the UK and went to the grand receptions, the truth is that I, like others, was probably a little intimidated by him. I did not seek a photograph with him, because I had the sense, looking at his life, that one of the things that was not missing from it was the need to have a photograph taken with me.
We sometimes think of Mandela in different phases. We remember Mandela the freedom fighter of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and the old black and white photographs. We refer to Mandela the global statesman in this, the internet age. But in my opinion not enough is made of Mandela the President. He introduced radical social reforms, including free health care, and gave many children the chance to go to school. As others have said, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did so much for the country.
One of Mandela’s greatest achievements was to defeat the phenomenon of our granting hero status only to those who die young, when those who are lost are missed not because of their achievements but for their unfulfilled and uncompromised promise. It is so rare for anyone to enjoy simultaneously a long life and near-universal love and respect, but Mandela captured and kept the sense of Camelot usually gifted only to those who are denied a life beyond middle age. A man born before the end of the first world war was to become the premier global cause of a digital age.
Even after Mandela left prison, the transition was painful—we have not focused on this enough today, understandably—with the provocation by state forces trying to create a civil war and the involvement of organisations such as Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging trying to incite tribal division.
This is ultimately a story of how the most powerful military force on a continent was defeated by an idea, and defeated by a group of undernourished prisoners on a barren rock in an Atlantic bay. The reconciliation after apartheid was a man-made miracle where millions of women and men played their part, but Mandela was undoubtedly the chemistry. In a troubled world, observers anguish that if only we had more Mandelas, so many of the problems facing us could be resolved. That is a pessimist’s view. I look at it in a different way, which is that at least we had one Mandela, and for that we should all be eternally grateful.
I am conscious that a large number of colleagues want to contribute to this debate, so I want to make just one single point that I do not think has yet been made.
Mandela exemplified the dignity of hope. We all have to learn from his humility and from his preparedness to forgive those who persecuted him. The inheritance of Mandela’s hope should be for the people of Africa. It was particularly striking that he served only one term as President of South Africa, on a continent where far too often political leaders cling on to power for as long as possible.
As a country we are now the most generous donor of development aid of all the G8 nations. We can give development assistance to South Africa and provide it and South Africans with education. The right hon. Members for Neath (Mr Hain) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and I are all graduates of the university of Sussex, which has produced more Members of the South African Parliament than of this Parliament as a result of the support the university gave to those from the ANC during the ’60s and ’70s.
Africa must form its own destiny and decide whether it follows the path exemplified by Mandela of transparency, democracy, accountability and justice, or whether it pursues a course of corruption, cronyism and conflict. That is a choice for Africa to make; we cannot impose it on Africa.
Let us today hope that the people of Africa can see the example that Mandela has left them, and let us give them all the support we possibly can. Let us hope that in 10 or 20 years’ time, when the fantastic continent of Africa, so rich in human and natural resources, looks back, it will be able to say that it is free, democratic and just, because of the example that Mandela set it.
It is a real honour to follow so many passionate and eloquent speeches.
This morning I went to South Africa house to sign the book of condolence. It is still a really strange experience for me to enter South Africa house, having spent so much time on the pavement outside. Indeed, at one time I was convinced that the pavement there was particularly hard and cold, especially around midnight. I have since entered it in very different circumstances and in triumphant celebration of a free South Africa. The fact that the lobby of South Africa house has so many photographs of so many activists, including myself, makes it all the more welcoming.
This morning was different. It was sad—so very, very sad. As I signed the book in the name of Newcastle and anti-apartheid activists everywhere, I thought about how personal his death was for so many who had never met him personally. That was due to Mr Mandela’s towering personality, but it was also because apartheid was personal to so many of us who had never set foot in South Africa.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, it is easy now to forget how widespread the support was for South Africa and how much British racists took comfort and, indeed, solace from white rule. At the heart of apartheid was injustice, discrimination and separation. Do hon. Members remember the Bantustans? The justification of apartheid was for separate development, with blacks being given their own so-called homeland.
The belief that the races could not live together was obviously taken very personally by a young child in Newcastle with a black father and a white mother. It was also taken personally by so many people throughout Newcastle, the north-east and across the country. I want to pay tribute to the international working-class solidarity that supported the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The idea that what someone was and what they could achieve should be defined by the colour of their skin was taken as a personal attack by black people, by white people, by all people.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement is the most successful mass-movement this country has ever seen. It was the focus of my own activism for many years, spent in its headquarters on what is now called Mandela street, and I eventually joined its executive. Indeed, the first time I entered the parliamentary estate was for executive meetings organised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), Richard Caborn and Bob Hughes. I also want to pay tribute to Mike Terry who, tragically, died so young a few years ago, and to ACTSA—Action for Southern Africa—which is what the Anti-Apartheid Movement became.
Although the movement was successful, it was not simple. There were intense debates, concerns over tactics and alliances, and, of course, dirty tricks from the South African secret service and others. The evil of apartheid not only gave rise to the most terrible oppression in South Africa; it also corrupted its neighbours in southern Africa. Nelson Mandela was our strength, inspiration and source of unity. The minor debates and divisions within the movement were as nothing in comparison with the huge divisions within South Africa that were deliberately fostered over decades. Mr Mandela’s achievement in putting aside 27 years of imprisonment—much of it with hard labour—and in forgiving though not forgetting and in unifying his country is, therefore, all the greater. He did it not by playing to the fears in all of us, but by magnifying the goodness in all of us.
At a time when there are many debates about what it means to be the United Kingdom and a united Europe and about who we should let in, and at a time when asylum seekers are vilified and those on benefits are mistrusted, I believe that one of Nelson Mandela’s many lessons for us is that, if we do not live in the harmony that he sought, it is not because our differences are so very great, but perhaps because our politicians are not great enough.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who made it very clear that apartheid was a personal attack on many people. I cannot claim her level of personal involvement in the anti-apartheid campaign, but I want to speak in this debate for two reasons: the first a constituency reason and the second a family one.
The battle to overcome apartheid had some unlikely heroes and we have heard a great deal today about the most inspirational of all. Another inspirational figure to whom this House recently paid tribute was the Capetonian, England and Worcestershire cricketer, Basil D’Oliveira, who lived in my constituency for many years. His role in showing the cricketing world the unreasonable nature of apartheid and South Africa’s colour bar and in helping to strengthen the sporting embargo against apartheid has been well documented. He was no active political campaigner, but in many ways his quiet dignity was a greater challenge to the regime at that time than a more outspoken approach would have been.
It is typical of the great Madiba’s generosity of spirit that he personally invited D’Oliveira to have lunch with him in 1996 during a coaching trip to South Africa. At the end of their time together he rose from his chair, hugged Basil D’Oliveira and said:
“Thanks for coming, Basil…You must go home now. You’ve done your bit.”
While some in the Anti-Apartheid Movement were critical of Basil D’Oliveira for not being more outspoken and not publicly backing boycotts of South Africa, Mandela—ever one to recognise the bravery and dignity of others—gave him the full credit for doing his bit.
Basil himself described their meeting as
“one of the greatest days of my life”,
“He’s just a marvellous man and I’ve always thought a lot of him, read a lot about him and now I’ve actually met him—brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and to come back to the new South Africa has been absolutely marvellous.”
It was one of my greatest honours as Worcester’s MP to be at last January’s memorial service for Basil D’Oliveira and to be able to offer my condolences to his family, who live to this day in Worcester. I am sure that they, along with thousands of my other constituents, will be mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela.
As I said, the second reason I wanted to speak today was due to a family connection. My wife Charlotte was born in South Africa and spent the early years of her life there. Her father, Professor Jeremy Keenan, was a university lecturer at Witwatersrand, and to an outsider it might have appeared that they were among the comfortable white beneficiaries of the apartheid system. In fact, he spent years working with the ANC, travelling into the townships and homelands and using his privileged access as an anthropologist to document the appalling treatment of black people under apartheid, the pass laws and the use of control mechanisms, then passing on the information to his contacts in the ANC. While in South Africa, he wanted to dedicate a book that he had written about the Tuareg to Mandela, but under the laws of the day he could not have it published with a mention of that man’s name. He gave his dedication indirectly by speaking about the fact that his son was
“born in a land where drought is also not unheard of and where elders also live on islands”.
My father-in-law and his family had to leave South Africa in a hurry in 1987 when the Government of P. W. Botha cracked down hard on those suspected of supporting Mandela and his allies. The information he had gathered was to be compiled in a book that would have been called “Dying for Change”, but at the time the South African authorities were able to suppress such publications, and only now are the full details emerging. Other people engaged in shining a light on the regime or passing information to the ANC were murdered, and both he and his family suffered threats and intimidation from the security services, including multiple break-ins, and having their pets poisoned and the brakes on their cars tampered with.
Last year, I was able to travel to South Africa and join my father-in-law on his first visit to that beautiful country since the end of apartheid. We saw a country that still faces great challenges, in which there are still vast inequalities, but most of all we saw a country at peace with itself and a country in which young people of all colours and backgrounds can live with hope for the future. That is the legacy of Mandela. As Rabbi Sacks said of him,
“He permanently enlarged the horizon of human hope.”
There can be no more fitting epitaph than that.
I am grateful to be able to pay my tribute to Nelson Mandela. He was a great leader and statesman and a wonderful loving human being. Despite having to endure 27 years in jail he remained committed to his cause, forgave his past enemies, and led his country from the dark times of apartheid to freedom, democracy and equality under law. As I look back on his life, I cannot but believe that that 27 years was wasted in prison. Imagine Nelson Mandela as President as a young or middle-aged man. Imagine the difference that he would have made to South Africa. Imagine the inspiration that he would have been to the whole of Africa and the world. We can all learn lessons from Nelson Mandela. My sympathy goes out to the people of South Africa, especially to his family and friends, who have lost not just a great leader, but a husband, a father, a grandfather and a loyal friend.
It was Desmond Tutu who said that Nelson Mandela had one big fault, which was that he was sometimes loyal to his friends who let him down badly. I do not think that is a bad fault. For anyone who had Nelson Mandela as a friend, he was there on the good days and the bad days. He was a real friend at all times, and I do not think that that is a bad quality in a man. Desmond Tutu also said that he was a gift to South Africa. Certainly he was a gift to South Africa, but he was probably a gift to the whole world. He made us aware that despite any atrocities that we might face in our lives, it is possible for people to forgive, to reconcile and to move on and build a better world.
Nelson Mandela was a modern politician, although he was in his 90s. He was always smart and people noticed when he was in the room. He was great on the soundbites, and knew how to get his message across to the public and the media. He was a man of principle, a great leader and a statesman, and, as I said, a wonderful human being.
In case people believe that he will be forgotten, I finish with a more light-hearted view. My six-year-old grandson went to school on Friday and made a speech on the impact that Nelson Mandela had had on the world. However, he did not get all the facts right, because he said that he had been in a dungeon and not fed for 27 years. But overall he made the point that Nelson Mandela was a great man. It is nice to think that a six-year-old going to school remembers the great qualities of this individual, and that he will not be forgotten in the future.
I pay tribute to Mr Speaker for enabling today’s proceedings to take place, and to all the previous speakers. Their words speak for us all and we should let them stand and not be repeated. I simply wish to add one brief perspective. It is from one who never met Nelson Mandela personally, but was deeply inspired by him.
My perspective is a point of coincidence, which I modestly share with the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), whose speech today will resonate movingly down the years. That point of coincidence is not because, like him, I moved from one party to another, from the SDP to the Conservatives; he moved the other way. It is not because I boycotted all South African goods, at least until 1990. I never went to South Africa until the 2000s. It is not because as a young man I marched in London against apartheid, or because I signed numerous petitions or as a member of Amnesty International stayed in a cage trying to write letters and be active on behalf of political prisoners. It was because of what Nelson Mandela was doing that so many of our thoughts, particularly as young people, were shaped by him and what he stood for. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke exceptionally movingly, not just about solidarity and freedom but about Nelson Mandela’s great life and his influence transcending generations—political generations—and, deeply within us, our families, from generation to generation.
For me, the point of coincidence with the right hon. Member for Neath is that I was born in Africa. I was partly brought up and educated there. In my case, it was in a country then called Tanganyika. It has been proudly independent as the United Republic of Tanzania for the last 50 years, and was host for many years to the ANC, not least for its training at Morogoro and elsewhere. For people such as us, we never quite shake the red dust of Africa from our feet. It is interesting that for my parents not only is Julius Nyerere a great hero, but so is Trevor Huddleston and so is Nelson Mandela. For them and for my constituents, and for those few of us who are proud enough to have even a minuscule part of Africa in us, I want to make one point. Although I did not have the chance to meet Nelson Mandela personally, I have through my work on malaria and development met Graça Machel—his third wife, now his widow, but who when she met him was already the widow of one President —who has shown such commitment to the improvement of lives in her native Mozambique and to the improvement of all lives in South Africa. She worked with Nelson Mandela right through to the end, and through her strength, dedication and devotion to him she showed deep commitment and care. But above all she is now an advocate of his legacy, and our deep condolences go to her and to all Nelson Mandela’s extensive family.
As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and my right hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) and others have said, Nelson Mandela was a giant of values and practice—a man of great standards, leadership, vision and inspiration, who has transcended politics today. The legacy that Graça Machel and others will want to carry forward is his championing of seeking peace and reconciliation, for which I and so many others will continue to battle. It includes his determination to bring down poverty, to build the capacities of good government, and to fight for jobs and justice for all, in all countries, and particularly in South Africa and the other nations of Africa. His dedication to the fight against AIDS and other tropical diseases that are totally treatable and avoidable was another feature of his leadership. He said that ultimately his birthright was South Africa and the African continent. He was an inspirational leader, a man who set standards for us all to which we can only aspire, as it will be impossible for us to reach them, but none the less they are worth aiming for. He did in the end say that he belonged to South Africa, but he embraced all of Africa and all the peoples in it. As we politicians reflect today on his extraordinary life and on the electoral mandate that has enabled us all to come to this place, I hope that his legacy—and the leadership of Graça Machel as she takes it forward—will mean that all the peoples, the leaders and the Governments of the 54 countries of Africa will embrace Nelson Mandela and what he meant for their future. His legacy and, above all, his courageous heart will guide them and help them to build the freedom and opportunity that the 1 billion and more Africans deserve. That is the greatest legacy that he can give, and I am absolutely sure that he will then be beaming down from above with his inimitable smile.
First, I should like to speak on behalf of my constituents in Brixton who celebrated and still remember Mandela’s visit in 1996. On Friday, when the book of condolence was opened by the leader of the council and the mayor, I spoke to a lady who had been at the Brixton Rec for that visit. She told me that she remembered the day well, saying, “I could not believe that a man like Nelson Mandela would want to visit a place like Brixton and people like us.” The inspiration that he created in those short hours lives on in so many hearts and memories.
I should now like to turn to the irreplaceable role that Nelson Mandela played in winning the bid for the Olympics for London 2012. Sport and its power have been a persistent theme of South Africa’s journey from apartheid to democracy, first as a lightning rod for the global anti-apartheid movement and then, at Nelson Mandela’s behest, as a means of healing that nation’s deep divisions. We will for ever remember his taking to the pitch wearing a Springbok shirt and cap to inspire the South African rugby team in 1995.
Let us fast-forward 10 years to the Olympic bid, when my friend Richard Caborn—then the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central—and others negotiated Nelson Mandela’s support for London's bid. Mr Mandela spoke as though he were a Londoner when he said:
“There’s no city like London. It is a wonderfully diverse and open city, providing a home to hundreds of nationalities from across the world. I can’t think of a better place than London to hold an event that unites the world. The Games in London will inspire athletes as well as young people around the world and ensure that the Olympic Games remain the dream for future generations.”
His words about sport captured the essence of the London 2012 dream when he said that
“sport has the power to change the world, the power to unite people as little else does. It speaks to youth, in a language they understand. Sport creates hope where once there was only despair.”
Now, with his passing, public figures and private citizens across the world will find their own way of giving personal expression to Nelson Mandela’s legacy, through countless acts of courage, leadership and humility, and an unfailing belief in the generosity of the human spirit. As these tributes today have shown, our lives and the life of this nation were enriched by that great man. We now have to carry the challenge of his legacy forward.
I apologise for having missed part of the debate; I had engagements that I could not change with people from outside the House. I am glad that the Speaker has allowed these tributes to be paid, as they give us the opportunity to place on record our views and experiences.
I had the great privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela shortly after he had been elected President. I have Richard Caborn to thank for that opportunity, as he was then the Chair of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, of which I was a member. The Committee visited South Africa to see how the ending of apartheid could change the business relationship between the United Kingdom and South Africa—as indeed it has done. Mr Mandela gave us a considerable amount of his time, as he always did; he was very generous and engaging. People often talk about his humility, and I was astonished when, on shaking hands with me, he told me that it was a great honour for him to meet me. I think I replied, “It is entirely the reverse, Mr President.” That was typical of his understatement and his charm.
On that visit, I also remember attending a reception at a hotel in a rather nondescript place called Midrand, which, as the name implies, is halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. I was talking to an Afrikaner lady, who expressed her concern about what would happen to South Africa now that it was in the hands of the majority. Obviously, I found that conversation rather uncomfortable. I pointed out that they were indeed the majority and that, as it had been an agreed transition, I hoped that she would welcome it.
Just before the reception ended, the president of the chamber of commerce announced that two of the young girls from the typing pool wanted to sing for us. Two very small girls stood on the podium, put their arms round each other and sang, a cappella, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”. As they sang, tears started to run down the cheek of the Afrikaner woman. When they had finished singing, she turned to me and said, “This is still my country. It’s time I learned the words.” That encapsulated the impact of what Nelson Mandela was able to do. He made people understand that they had to move on, and that they had to do so without recrimination and without looking back.
I have the privilege of being the Chair of the International Development Committee and in that capacity I have travelled all over Africa in the past few years. Let us be clear: Mandela’s dream has by no means been fulfilled across Africa, which is riddled with conflict. Sadly, more often than not, those conflicts are between black and black, rather than the civil war between the races that many people feared. I am certain that Mandela’s wisdom and advice are still relevant. People have to be able to move forward, to work together, to embrace their enemies and to start to think about a different set of values.
After President de Klerk had given his undertaking that he would move forward to create majority rule in South Africa, he came to London to speak at the South African embassy. Members of the House were invited to attend. Very few did, but I chose to do so. The demonstration outside the embassy was still going on at the time, and I was heckled and harassed for having the audacity to go to listen to that speech. All I wanted to do was hear from the man himself just how genuinely committed he was to the promises and pledges he had made. I make no apology for going, and I have no regrets, because the results now speak for themselves.
At the end of that Select Committee visit to South Africa, we were about to leave Johannesburg to come back to the United Kingdom when we happened to bump into Joe Slovo in the airport lounge. He was terminally ill with cancer, but he was still working as a housing Minister. I told him that we had met Nelson Mandela and that I had seen and heard many things that had impressed me. I said I was impressed by how the country was determined to move forward as a rainbow nation of people who wanted to work together to put the past behind them and to go forward together as one nation. Joe Slovo said to me, “We won’t forgive, we can never forget, but you won’t build a new nation on bitterness and revenge.” That seemed to me fundamentally to sum up what Nelson Mandela had achieved: only when people can move forward, embrace the future and turn their back on the divisions of the past, can they face the world and claim that they have delivered freedom. There is a long way to go—it is still a long walk—but, without Nelson Mandela, perhaps the first step would not have been taken.
I have my South African godmother, Mary Grice, to thank for a lifelong interest in Africa. When I was a child, she used to send me books about Africa and African artefacts. She stood in line with other members of the Black Sash in Durban, where she lived, to protest against apartheid. Her daughter, Jenny, worked her whole life—she recently retired—for the multiracial National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa trade union.
I do not think that hon. Members have said enough this afternoon about the role played by Africans in South Africa in securing their freedom. That freedom did not happen because of the global solidarity movement, important though it was, but because South Africans themselves demanded the rights that they now have. Mandela’s genius was not simply to win the argument and the political struggle, but to win over his opponents and to persuade them that he and the ANC had been right all along.
There has been huge consensus across the Chamber today among hon. Members, many of whom have shown that they learned their politics in the South African solidarity movement, but there has not always been such consensus. I published a poster—I think it was the first in the UK—demanding freedom for Mandela in 1973, when he had just been made vice-president of the National Union of Students. I named a bar after him at my student union in Bristol at about the same time. Members of the ANC came along to the opening, but were a bit sniffy about our naming a bar after their great leader. I was hugely relieved to find, after his release, that he drank.
Ten years later, when the Anti-Apartheid Movement moved its headquarters from Charlotte street to Selous street, as it then was, in Camden Town, I ran a campaign to get the name changed to Mandela street, which is the one it enjoys today. Such minor acts of solidarity were roundly condemned at the time. I still have a cutting from The Rhodesia Herald, as it was then, and from a prominent British national Sunday newspaper expressing incredulity that anybody wished to honour and show respect for the name of this political prisoner.
I served for quite a few years on the executive or national committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement under the chairmanships of both the noble Lord Hughes in the other place and John Ennals, who was the brother of David Ennals, the Health Minister under Harold Wilson. I led campaigns to persuade local authorities and trade unions to sell their investments in South Africa.
When I was first elected to the House in 1992, I wanted to become involved with anti-apartheid work, but I found that we had apartheid among our all-party groups, which in those days could be set up without needing to have members from all parties. There were two South African groups—the all-party group on South Africa, which argued against disinvestment and for white rights, order and no change in South Africa; and the all-party group on Southern Africa, led by Peter Pike, the former Member for Burnley, who was mentioned by the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). I joined the Southern Africa group, because it was closely aligned to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The two groups merged a few years later, and it was because of the experience of reconciliation in South Africa that we felt we should join together into a single group.
One of the greatest privileges I have had as a Member of this House was to be selected to observe the first genuine democratic, all-race elections in South Africa in 1994. The practice was to put an African politician with one from further afield, so that there was a multiracial observer team, and I had the great good fortune to be twinned with Mose Tjitendero, who was the Speaker of the Namibian Parliament. Just five years before, Namibia had gone through a similar transition—nobody has mentioned it this afternoon—managing to move to democracy and majority rule without destroying the state and without that leading to civil war and chaos. I learned a lot from him during our three days of observing the election.
On the first day, in one of those long lines of voters that many of us will remember from our television screens—the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) described them in his speech—I saw an old African women with snow-white hair, and I asked her how long she had been waiting to vote, because I was trying to find out whether it was taking people two, five or 10 hours, and she simply said, “All my life.”
After the election, I went to the Alexandra health centre, a progressive centre that had fought to extend health care to people of all races during the time of apartheid. I met a midwife who first qualified in what was then called Northern Transvaal—the Northern Province—who said that when she qualified, she was given her equipment, which consisted of a kettle to boil water to sterilise whatever instruments she might use and a candle so that she could do deliveries in the dark. We started talking about the sort of support that South Africa would need to build a health care system that provided for all its citizens, and she said that the challenge was not one of resources—after all, in South Africa the doctor Christiaan Barnard had carried out the first heart transplant operation many years before—but of how those resources were distributed.
Mandela was a revolutionary. Many refused to support him when he was in prison, because he refused to repudiate the armed struggle. Amnesty International would not make him a prisoner of conscience because of that refusal. We should not forget, however, that while the victims were citizens, the violence of apartheid came overwhelmingly from the security forces of the state—as in Sharpeville, the Soweto student uprising in 1976 and the Durban strikes in the early 1970s.
Mandela’s first goal was to achieve democracy and universal suffrage, and that goal has been achieved, but his vision went far wider. He wanted to achieve equality and full human rights and justice for all citizens in his country and the wider world, and those goals remain to be achieved. If we want to honour his reputation, we need to work to do our part, as political leaders in our country, to ensure that those goals are achieved.
We therefore need to concentrate on making the argument to the public in our country that we should spend 0.7% of our gross national income on international development. We need to retain the focus of our development programme on the elimination of poverty, and recognise that that requires us to challenge inequality globally, in our own country and in the developing countries that we are seeking to help.
I believe it was a mistake when, earlier this year, the United Kingdom decided to close its aid relationship with South Africa, which is a middle-income country. It does not need our money, but we have a lot to gain from continuing to work with South Africa and its Government in examining how they are tackling inequality there and in transferring the lessons we can learn from them back to the United Kingdom and other developing countries where we have programmes, because unless we deal with the problem of inequality, we will never end the global scourge of poverty.
On Mandela Monday in Parliament, I think it can be said that we are all South Africans today. There have been many touching and moving speeches. I hope that Mr Speaker will send a bound copy of Hansard to the South African Parliament to demonstrate the love and warmth that British MPs have, on behalf of their constituents, for Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela’s legacy can be seen by those who go to South Africa in the growth that there has been. People have said that it is not perfect. Clearly, it is not, but nor is the United Kingdom perfect. The advances that were made under Nelson Mandela’s stewardship were tremendous. Indeed, what South Africa is not is also tremendous—it is not Zimbabwe. We have heard today that Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years. Next year will see the 27th year of the presidency of Robert Mugabe. There is a rich irony in that.
Some of the words that we have heard spoken in relation to Nelson Mandela today have been reconciliation, freedom, dignity, love and hope. Of all those, one would usually say that love was the strongest emotion. However, today I believe that hope is the strongest.
I was introduced to a young opera singer called Siphiwo Ntshebe by a friend of mine who is the representative of South Africa in the north-west. He was going to sing the “Hope” anthem at the opening of the 2010 World cup in South Africa. Sadly, he died just before he was able to do so. Some of the words in the anthem were spoken by Nelson Mandela:
“The generosity of the human spirit can overcome all adversity.
Through compassion and caring, we can create hope.”
That is hope for all those who have faced discrimination and apartheid, hope for those who face discrimination and apartheid today, hope for those who face dejection, and hope for those who face being unheard, in whatever country they happen to live and whatever kind of evil they face.
I have stood in the shadow of the huge statue in Nelson Mandela square in Sandton in Johannesburg. I am sure that many Members here have done so. That statue is massive, yet when future generations learn of the achievements of Nelson Mandela, they will realise that it is not big enough. It could have been much bigger.
Many Members have said at the end of their moving and touching contributions that we will not see his like again. I hope that we do, because we need more Nelson Mandelas and we need them now. On the one occasion I heard Nelson Mandela speak in South Africa house, he finished his speech by saying that some leaders ought to learn when it is time to go. He did not mention Mugabe, but we all knew who he was talking about. I was privileged enough to shake hands with Nelson Mandela. It took him ages to leave South Africa house that day because such was his humanity that he wanted to shake hands with as many people as he could.
We will all remember where we were when we heard the news that Nelson Mandela had sadly died. More importantly, we will also remember that we were all privileged enough to stand on the earth at the same time as that great man was alive.
There have been some great and passionate speeches tonight. Like many of the Members who have spoken, my politics and my life have been shaped by Nelson Mandela and by apartheid.
I left school not to go to university but to go to sea. The first deep sea trip that I made was to South Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope. On that ship was a bosun who was Jamaican, a fireman who was Maltese and a mainly British crew. In the international community that is seafaring, we shared many things. However, when we went ashore in South Africa, we could not do so together. I remember the tears of many people in that mess room when they reflected on that experience. They had experienced the same thing in America before the civil rights movement. They could not go to bars in America at that time because of the hatred that race brought in various communities. It is emotional to think that those people did not live to see apartheid lifted, but many people fought the good fight to ensure that it was.
As I have said, those experiences shaped my politics and my life. Those human experiences are the things that count because politics is about people. We are here today to pay tribute to one of the greatest people who has ever lived. That is a strong statement to make. I had the privilege of being in his company, as did many others. However, I remember reading about the history of apartheid on that ship as a 16-year-old with my colleagues.
I also remember being at university in my 30s during the 1990s when Nelson Mandela became President. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and other Members have talked about the queues of people who waited to vote on that day. I think that will stick in the memory of most people in the world. When we complain about the apathy and low turnout in our country, we should think about what those people endured for many years. Nelson Mandela made it possible them to vote.
Nelson Mandela was a man who was prepared to die to free people. He was, in many ways, a modern-day prophet. He wanted to free a whole nation and a whole continent, and he achieved that. That is why we hold him in such high esteem. He was a person who was prepared to forgive and forget the hatred that had been shown to him.
I am a passionate rugby fan, as are many Members here. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than watching Wales beat England, whether it be in the Millennium stadium or at Twickenham. However, the greatest rugby moment that I can remember was when Nelson Mandela wore that Springboks shirt with the No. 6 on the back and gave that smile. That was the greatest sporting moment and the greatest political moment in one.
The capital city of my country, Cardiff, gave the freedom of the city to Nelson Mandela. My party had the privilege of being addressed by Nelson Mandela. I went to the Mandela Rhodes Foundation event in Westminster Hall in 2003. I am not sure whether I should say this because I am not a Rhodes scholar. As I have said, I left school rather early. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) also pushed in beside me with his camera, as he always does on such splendid occasions. The warm-up act on that day was made up of Tony Blair, Bob Hawke and Bill Clinton, and the concluding remarks were made by Nelson Mandela. What an act to see!
It was with great fondness that I heard the great man speak. I only wish that the bosun and the other seafarers I sailed with had had the opportunity to see what that man achieved in their name.
Today we have heard from some of the generals of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I must admit that I was only a foot soldier. I was never even arrested. I was once asked to put down a glass that I was using to lubricate my shouting, which was directed at the South African ambassador. I have three children who are mixed race. That would not have been allowed had I been in South Africa. I therefore had a personal beef with the ambassador, which I put to him in a rather loud tone of voice.
Nelson Mandela’s love and devotion were not reserved only for his family, but extended to his country, his people and all those who have ever stood up to tyranny. His philosophy of reconciliation and of a search for forgiveness; his political endeavour for a peaceful, democratic transition from the dark night of apartheid; and his relentless courage in the face of adversity allow him to stand tall in comparison with those who sought to keep power through the sword and without the consent of the people.
Few manage to make a mark as bold and as long-lasting as Mandela’s. His time on this earth may be done, but his legacy will burn bright through the ages. As long as one person is dominated by another, as long as one person keeps another in slavery and bondage, and as long as freedom of thought and freedom of conscience cannot be tamed, he will stand as an example to those seeking the bright day of freedom, democracy, tolerance and mutual respect.
The key message, however, is that of forgiveness. After his release, Nelson Mandela called not for revenge but instead for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When we look around the world at acts of vengeance, such as the difficulties in Bangladesh, Kashmir or, as was mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka, we see that the problem is that those acts of vengeance give rise to other acts of vengeance, and things go off the rails. To that extent, we have a massive amount for which to thank Nelson Mandela. We thank him for showing people that the way forward is not through acts of vengeance.
I bring another accent to the debate and to our tribute to Nelson Mandela. Obviously, people in Ireland—north and south—supported the Anti-Apartheid Movement, inspired by men like Kader Asmal, who helped to found the movement here in London and then founded it in Ireland when he moved there. I spoke about him in my maiden speech in this House in 2005, which was in an Africa debate.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Ireland had the same view. In Northern Ireland, people tended to pick and choose their views according to party lines and whose side they were on at home. If we rose above such squabbles, we found that people in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, who were inspirational themselves, were inspired by Nelson Mandela and by the many people who were leading the struggle for democracy in South Africa, whether they were in jail or body-swerving the system, avoiding jail and organising in many different ways.
All sorts of arguments and debates were raging here in the 1980s. I worked for my predecessor, John Hume, as a researcher in Westminster, and I also spent time working in Teddy Kennedy’s office in the States. I know exactly what all the arguments were about why sanctions would not work or should not be put in place, and the argument that the geopolitical order required us to tolerate the apartheid regime. Even while the Government here were officially condemning it, they were not interfering with it in any way.
I also recall that there was a threatened split in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Ireland in the mid-’80s. Sinn Fein had started contesting elections and so on, and it joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement on a corporate basis. Several significant people then left, such as Garret FitzGerald. John Hume addressed a rally in Dublin, and it was one of the few times he publicly disagreed with Garret FitzGerald. He said that no differences to do with Irish politics should in any way detract from combined and united solidarity in repudiating the iniquity that was apartheid. Both at that rally and in debates in the House, John Hume made the point that we needed sanctions not just as a badge of moral indignation, and not just to put an economic bite on a regime that needed its collar felt, but in solidarity with the struggle for democracy in South Africa. After John Hume made that speech, Kader Asmal, who subsequently told Nelson Mandela that I helped to write it, made a point of getting it sent to South Africa and taken to Nelson Mandela in prison. Kader Asmal said that he thought it was the first time that a parliamentarian had put it that way.
As a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement—I represented the Union of Students in Ireland and then my party—I found myself in the unusual position of importing something into pre-democratic South Africa in the early 1990s. It was two collapsible aluminium polling booths that were made in my constituency, to be used as part of a training exercise by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. I was one of an international faculty helping in that exercise, in which regional and local ANC activists were being prepared for what may be involved in elections, so that they could organise themselves. They were obviously seething during the transition, because there were talks about talks, and there was a question of whether there would be all-party talks or a constituent assembly, and other difficulties of process followed. Nelson Mandela and his fellow leaders had to keep people together through all those troubles, difficulties and frustrations, and that was one exercise to help achieve that. As well as the polling booths, which were used when we split into two groups and toured the country, at the request of the Americans I also brought unused books of ballot papers from Ireland, north and south.
During those mock arrangements, I witnessed many people who had had lifelong involvement in the struggle for democracy going through their first act of queuing up at a polling station and voting, on an Irish ballot paper. Even though it was a mock election, they were crying. Like the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who was so struck when the actual election came and he saw the queues of people lining up for the real vote, I saw how important it was.
I met Nelson Mandela and, as I said, Kader Asmal, who became the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in the Government of national unity and then Minister of Education in the first ANC Government. Nelson Mandela came to speak to all the political parties from Northern Ireland, which were in South Africa to learn lessons and get an insight from the South African process. It was not the first time we had done that—there had been previous trips—but it was the first time that all the parties were on one trip. We could not all share the same transport, because at that stage Unionist parties still said that they would not be in the same room or on the same transport as Sinn Fein. Even when we were taken on a visit to a local beach, at Africa’s most southerly point, apartheid South Africa’s laws unfortunately had to be reinstated and there was separation. I was at the event with Kader Asmal, who was seething at the idea that we were separated and imposing limits on ourselves, but he told me that Nelson Mandela had said to him, “It is not up to us to impose our standards on them. We can give them our example, and they will find their way.” I thought that was particularly rich.
The initial idea was that Nelson Mandela would speak to certain parties in one room, or one session, and then to other parties including Sinn Fein, or to Sinn Fein on its own, in another room or another session. A splendid solution was reached when people realised the architecture of the centre meant that they could remove two glass sliding walls so that some of us were under the roof while Nelson Mandela addressed us and others were outside—not under the same roof. That is how Unionist blushes were spared, but at least Nelson Mandela, as the elected President of South Africa, was allowed the dignity of saying the same thing to all of us at the same time.
Nelson Mandela gave us many key messages and lessons at that event. There were the familiar ones, such as the fact that we had to negotiate peace with our enemies, not our friends, but there were also points about not only needing to be sure about the integrity of our choice but needing to allow space for the integrity of other choices. He said that it was not enough just to get into talks—mutual engagement was not the target; mutual adjustment was the real, hard test. He also made it clear that, when finding new ground, it is much easier to make common ground than when we fight over the old ground and the old issues, identities and labels.
Many Members have paid tribute to people in England who stood against apartheid, but I want to make particular reference to the Dunnes Stores workers whose strike in 1984 did so much to galvanise opposition to apartheid in Ireland and beyond. I particularly wish to name Mary Manning, Karen Gearon, Alma Russell and Liz Deasy. In recent days, there has been popular demand in Ireland that whatever national delegation goes to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral and the other ceremonies, those Dunnes Stores workers should be part of it. They represent the real spirit of the struggle against apartheid.
Nelson Mandela’s famous opening words at his trial were:
“I am the First Accused.”
Today we remember him as the “first admired”. We hope that we can look forward to his being the “first emulated” in other areas where people are suffering from injustice and conflict, and from the violations that result from unaccountable power, but it is not only in those areas that he should be emulated. We need to remember that as well as indicting the iniquity and inequity of the apartheid system, he indicted the world order as we know it, a world order in which power and wealth are vested in the hands of a privileged minority. If we want to take part in the emulation of Nelson Mandela, we should not just expect things of other people who live in difficult circumstances; we should rise to the challenge, and deal with the apartheid nature of the world economic order that still exists.
We have heard many wonderful speeches, which have been both humorous and thoughtful. I entered the House of Commons in 1987, and I cannot imagine that a debate of this kind would have taken place then. I think that the debate we are having today demonstrates that things have moved on, not just in world politics because of someone like Nelson Mandela, but in the House. Of course, we would have such a debate only about someone who was very special, and, as we have heard from all who have spoken, Nelson Mandela was a very, very special man. We all live in his shadow, in a way that is difficult to describe.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I cannot boast of the relationship that I had with Nelson Mandela, but I can boast that I was in the same room as him twice, and I am very grateful for that. On the second occasion, when he came to Parliament soon after becoming President of South Africa, I was one of 2,000 people who sat and listened to his superb speech. What was probably most gratifying was the fact that, although she had called him a terrorist in previous years, the former Prime Minister was sitting in the front row paying obeisance like everyone else. I appreciated that very much.
I want to make one rather narrow point. Many of my colleagues have mentioned the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which I supported, and many have mentioned Bob Hughes. Bob, who was one of my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Aberdeen North, is now in the House of Lords. For many years, from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s, he was a very energetic chair of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which was disbanded after the first South African election. Having spent some of his childhood in South Africa, he knew exactly what was going on there, and most of the great events happened on his watch. He was heavily involved in the planning of the “Free Nelson Mandela” concert to which so many Members have referred. He was also very influential in politics in Scotland, as would be expected from a Scottish Member of Parliament.
Glasgow was the first city to grant Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city—in 1984, when he was still being called a terrorist and locked up in prison—and I am proud to say that the city that I now represent, Aberdeen, was the second to grant him that award, in the same year. That was all due to the work of Bob Hughes. It is an indication of the way in which Bob was regarded in South Africa that, after Nelson Mandela became President, he was awarded the Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo. Oliver Tambo, then deceased, had been the leader of the African National Congress. That special award had been created for foreign citizens who had supported South Africa and the ANC through all the hard times. The award had three levels, and Bob was given the silver award, which was for
“those who have actively promoted the interests and aspirations of South Africa through outstanding co-operation, solidarity and support.”
I think it important to put that on the record, because that award is the second highest that can be made to a foreign citizen.
I also want to pay a small tribute to Mr Speaker Martin, who has now retired. When I was Chair of the Administration Committee, he was anxious for us to mark the fact that Nelson Mandela had paid us a visit when he was President of South Africa. Many Members—but not enough of them—will know that in Westminster Hall there is a plaque which was placed there some four years ago to commemorate the fact that Mandela had made a great speech to the collected Houses of Parliament when he visited as President. If any of my colleagues are looking for a place to which to make a pilgrimage, I can tell them that it is quite close.
The fact that the House of Commons has spent the whole day paying tribute to Nelson Mandela is, of course, a tribute to the man himself, but it is also a tribute to the thousands of Africans who struggled for their freedom. It is a tribute to activists such as Steve Biko, it is a tribute to the ANC and to the ANC in exile, but it is also a tribute to the thousands of ordinary people in, I believe, all our constituencies who stood on street corners and campaigned over the decades to make the release of Nelson Mandela possible.
I will always remember where I was when I saw Nelson Mandela being released from prison, hand in hand with Winnie Mandela. I also remember the BBC newscaster who was doing the bulletin. It was a friend of mine and one of the most loved newscasters, Moira Stuart. I shall never forget that, because the struggle against apartheid and the struggle to free Nelson Mandela were part of the warp and weft of my life as a young activist in the late 1970s and 1980s. There were the meetings, there were the pickets, there was the examination of the oranges to make sure they were—[Laughter]—I think that a lot of us have been there—and there were the donations. For a certain generation, that was the iconic international struggle. There were times when we thought that it was no more than a struggle and Nelson Mandela could not be released, so seeing those television pictures of him hand in hand with Winnie was an extraordinary experience for me.
We have heard some brilliant speeches today. The former leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) made one of the best speeches that I have ever heard him make, and I have heard him make some brilliant speeches since I was first a Member of Parliament in the 1980s. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) made a very impressive speech, reminding us that Mandela was a politician first and last, and reminding us also of the importance of the practice of politics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who was one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle—it might be said that that was his finest hour—told us about his childhood and his family, and presented a touching vignette of Winnie Mandela leaning down to kiss two white children.
Let me say a little about Winnie Mandela. She did terrible things and terrible things were done in her name, but no one who was active in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s will forget her courage and beauty when she was at the height of her powers. She endured long years in internal exile; she endured 18 months of solitary confinement, parted from her children; she endured beatings, and the blowing up and killing of her friends and comrades around her. As I have said, she did terrible things, but we cannot take away the fact that at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, she was a transcendent figure.
We have heard about Nelson Mandela and his achievements today. I remember seeing him on his first visit to the United Kingdom. The extraordinary thing about him was not just his presence and charisma, but the fact that there was no sense of the bitterness that he was entitled to feel after spending 28 years in prison and seeing what had happened to his friends and family. As we have heard, it was that nobility of purpose that enabled him—it was his signal contribution—to drive through a peaceful transition to majority rule without the bloodshed that so many people prophesied. He also stood down after one term. If only more leaders in countries around the world were prepared to do as he did and let go of power.
We live in an era that despises politicians, in which the word “political” is practically a term of abuse. We live in an era when too many young people believe that voting changes nothing, but I was privileged to be an election observer for those very first elections in which black people could vote. I remember leaving the centre of Johannesburg and driving all the way up to Soweto, on the edge of the city. We got there for 6 o’clock, but people had been queuing for hours. When the polling station opened, I saw figure after figure go into the polling station, mark the very long and complicated ballot paper and then step to the ballot box. Many of them looked around as they did so, as if even then someone would say, “Not you, you’re not allowed to vote.” It was being an observer at those elections that taught me the value of the ballot—that people can struggle and die for the right to vote.
Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid resonated with me as a young black woman just getting active in politics. The anti-apartheid struggle taught me that I was part of something international, and that politics was in the end about moral purpose. It taught me that if you believe in something, you should push on, because evil cannot stand. There is no more respected politician among young people in the UK than Nelson Mandela. It is a privilege to be allowed to speak today, and if people would only believe what Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle believed—that you can alter your reality and it is worth getting involved in the struggle and understanding the issues—our politics would be enriched so much.
One of the joys and privileges of being a Member of this House—apart from speaking for constituents, which I hope to do this evening—is that we have a front seat as history unfolds. I shall respond to your request for brevity, Mr Speaker, not least because one of my recollections of Nelson Mandela was of the day he was released from prison. Like most people, I was overjoyed. Then I suddenly remembered that I had the first question for Mrs Thatcher at Prime Minister’s questions that Tuesday. I thought a lot about that question and I delivered it as best I could. At one point, the formidable Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, sitting on the second row of Benches on the Government side, called out, “Too long.” The then Speaker, Mr Bernard Weatherill, was forced to intervene, saying, “I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a question, not a speech.”
In that spirit, I hope to be brief in giving my recollections of a great life that will be remembered for a very long time—that of Nelson Mandela. Shortly after his release, he came to Glasgow. As hon. Members have said, he had been given the freedom of the city of Glasgow—the first city to do so—after the work of people such as Janey Buchan, the Rev. Ian White, who was a minister in a church in my constituency in Coatbridge, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), who was a member of the Glasgow city council that agreed the bestowing of the freedom of the city, to the chagrin of the Glasgow Herald, which said that it could not see any link between that man and Glasgow except perhaps in the minds of a few Labour councillors. Now we know better.
Nelson Mandela charmed the people of Glasgow and reminded us that he was a person of principle and a man with deep values and a great vision for the future. When he was elected President in 1994, I had the privilege of being one of the observers at that election. I was in the company of David Steel, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and Bob Hughes—I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) recognised Bob Hughes and his role in the campaign to end apartheid and bring freedom in South Africa and elsewhere. The president was duly elected and the world waited to see what would follow. He had defeated what most people thought could not be defeated, and I remember his slogan in that election, “Jobs, Freedom, Peace”. Even today in this Parliament that remains our call for Britain and the rest of the world.
On that election day, I recall the remarkable reaction to the fact that people had the right to vote. I remember speaking with people—I am delighted to have photographs of some of them on the wall of my bedroom—including one woman who walked for seven hours and waited three hours in the hot sunshine to exercise that right to vote. One man—a small business person—said to me, “I am 58. If I die today, I will die a happy man because I have cast a vote.”
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and I recall that one of the things we were asked to do was to visit a prison. I do not wish to be controversial, but prisoners there had votes. Ironically, after they had voted they came to us and said, “We’re free, we’re free.” Perhaps there is a message there for all of us.
Time went on and in due course, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, the President of South Africa came to this Parliament. That was a wonderful event, with—rightly—much pomp and circumstance, as we would have expected and which the President of South Africa deserved. One thing stands out in my mind, and it coincides with the references that have been made throughout today to Nelson Mandela’s humility. After he had delivered a wonderful speech in the Palace of Westminster, he made his way down the aisle accompanied by the then Speaker, Baroness Boothroyd. He stopped at the fourth or fifth row where a frail, elderly little man was sitting and embraced him, expressing his gratitude. It was Jeremy Thorpe. Mandela was non-judgmental, a man of vision, compassion, forgiveness and understanding.
On the eve of the Third Reading of the Bill that became the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, which I had the privilege of sponsoring, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), said at a reception that he had been speaking to Nelson Mandela that day, and Nelson Mandela sent his very best wishes for the success of the Bill. For me, that was very humbling and makes me very proud.
Remembering his commitment to the millennium development goals and the progress that can follow—to human equality, to human rights, to gender recognition, to the need for everybody to enjoy an equality that gives them the very best of the health service in every part of the world—Nelson Mandela can never be forgotten.
In Scotland, very often when we run out of superlatives we look at the words of Robert Burns. I do not know whether during his prison reading Nelson Mandela read anything of Robert Burns, but I suspect that he did, and before I sit down I would like to put on record Burns’s words in writing to a friend in recognition of his father’s life:
“A friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age and guide of youth;
Few hearts like his-with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so informed:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”
May I start by thanking all Members for their contributions and you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this tribute to the first black South African President, who came to speak to this House on 11 July 1996? I am a new Member, so I was not here then to witness that, but on Thursday 5 December 2013 I was in Walsall, welcoming the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Walsall college. The Rev. Jesse Jackson played his part in the struggle for equality in America, and for the first black President of the United States, Barack Obama. Later in that evening we heard that Nelson Mandela, a true hero of our times, had died.
The struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa became our struggle. We honour Nelson Mandela today, who was No. 1 on the Rivonia trial list along with Jewish people, Indians and people of dual parentage, because they were the heroes who lost their liberty by opposing the brutality of a system that said the majority black population should not have equal rights or opportunities because of the colour of their skin.
So many of us were part of the anti-apartheid movement in this country and around the world—people of different parties: the Labour party, the then Liberal party, the Communist party, those of no party. There were also people of the Churches, and many Members have paid tribute to Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, and I would add Canon Collins, trade unions, and citizens, all of them united against the apartheid regime. Many of us share the abiding memory of my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who made a stunning speech, of running—always running. He, too, has paid a personal price for his activism.
I reviewed “The Anti-Apartheid Handbook” many years ago, and one thing that struck me was how people were classified in South Africa. One way in which they were classified was by seeing how long it took to drag a comb through their hair. Nelson Mandela, the ANC and the international community could not stand by and watch while innocent men, women and children were gunned down in Soweto or Sharpeville for opposing that brutal regime. The boycott and sanctions were right; it was not a question of sticks and carrots, but, as Archbishop Tutu said at the time of the boycott, people were suffering anyway and the boycott could not hurt them more. Music, prose, demonstrations and speeches— all those forms of action—set the spark to free Nelson Mandela.
Not many of us would have his courage not to compromise our principles, and many of us today are still judged by the colour of our skin, rather than on our attributes. The main reason he is such a hero to us, however, is that his story is like a fairytale come true: our hero, imprisoned for his beliefs, had 27 years of his life taken away, but collectively people came together—in collective action, as he wanted—and he was free.
As he said, he was not bitter, because if he had been so, he would still have been in prison. We can only honour his legacy if each of us is the spark for change. We can only honour his legacy if we continue the fight for social and economic justice. We can only honour his legacy if we together work for his values of forgiveness, perseverance, peace and hope. We give thanks for his life, and may he rest in peace.
One of my earliest political memories is of being taken as a child by my parents to march against apartheid here in London. For my generation who came to politics in the ’70s and ’80s, this was the great progressive cause, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said. I remember my mum coming back from the greengrocers in our very conservative part of suburban London having had a big argument about why she would not buy the Outspan oranges, which were from apartheid South Africa. It was the great cause.
The period in which I was most involved was when I was a student and when I was in the National Union of Students. Student politics often has a very bad name and can even be a term of abuse, but Nelson Mandela said education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world, and the United Kingdom student movement played a central role in the campaign to release Nelson Mandela and to bring an end to apartheid. Archbishop Trevor Huddleston said the student movement was the backbone of anti-apartheid, and Nelson Mandela served as honorary president of the NUS from 1969 until his death last week. Students were absolutely central to the success of the boycott Barclays campaign to get the bank out of South Africa, to putting pressure on universities and colleges to disinvest and to the boycott of South African goods. It was very striking that the various parts of the student movement, which disagreed with each other about just about everything else, could come together in unity and determination in the common cause to fight apartheid.
A number of Members on both sides of the House have mentioned Mike Terry. He was the first NUS executive member to have responsibility, more than 40 years ago, for work on southern Africa. He went on to be secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and only once apartheid was brought down did he follow the career for which he had trained and become a physics teacher. It was my pleasure to get to know him when he was a physics teacher at Alexandra park school in Haringey in north London and I was an Education Minister. As others have said, there is enormous cynicism about politics in this country and in other countries at the moment, but anti-apartheid and the struggle to release Nelson Mandela are surely politics at its very, very best.
Let me mention briefly two other issues. Several Members have spoken about what Nelson Mandela did and said about HIV and AIDS. I think it is fair to say that while he was in office, tackling HIV and AIDS was not a priority and, of course, his successor, President Mbeki, questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. It was only after he left office that Mandela’s role changed and was absolutely crucial. In 2000 he said:
“Our country is facing a disaster of immeasurable proportions from HIV/AIDS.”
He sought to break the taboo, and lives were undoubtedly saved as a direct consequence. As the Prime Minister said earlier, Nelson Mandela announced that his own son, Makgatho, had died of AIDS. At that time, about 600 South Africans were dying every day of AIDS-related illnesses, but often there was denial that AIDS was the cause of the deaths. Out of office, Nelson Mandela confronted that culture of denial.
Rightly, there has been a focus today on the commitment in the South African constitution to tackle racism and other forms of discrimination. The South African constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. I wish to finish with the following story, which I found when preparing for what I would say today. It is a beautiful story about a black lesbian couple who got married—this was before marriage had been legalised, but a church was prepared to marry them. One of the families was not very happy, so they went round and started to beat the other family up. The fight ended up being taken to the police station in Soweto. The police station commander sat the two families down and pointed to a poster on the wall—a poster of Nelson Mandela. She said, “Listen. That man, the father of our freedom, says it’s okay for these women to be together. And if he says that, who are you to argue?” That sorted things out. That little story says it all: Nelson Mandela was a force for good, for decent values, for justice and, as all contributors today have said, someone from whom we can all learn.
Three brief stories, of Kilburn, Kingstanding and Luanda, are linked together by the enduring icon who is Nelson Mandela.
I was born in Kilburn, of Irish immigrant parents. Twenty-five years later, the Jamaicans arrived. Both groups met waves of prejudice. My father, seeking lodgings, was told, “No Irish. No dogs.” Twenty-five years later, the Jamaicans were told, “No blacks. No dogs.” Both communities became the bedrock in north-west London of a vibrant, diverse, thriving multicultural society. People from both communities were present in 1962 at Nelson Mandela’s final meeting in this country before he went back to South Africa and ultimately stood trial for his life. He addressed the Willesden Friendship League in Kilburn high road, but hundreds of yards from where I was born. He enraptured the audience that night, and I will never forget old Tom Durkin, the president of Brent Trades Council, saying, “I have never met a man so optimistic in all my life.”
Both communities then became the bedrock of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. We look back now at that era and see that it was tough. It was tough for black people, including in the world of work, above all in South Africa, but also in this country. All too often, workplaces were scarred by racism, which was compounded and encouraged by the naked oppression of black people in South Africa. I recall one black Transport and General Workers Union shop steward, George, in an Irish pub in Kilburn high road, telling me the story of how grievously he felt having been racially abused in his workplace. But, he said, “I will stand up against it.” Who was his hero? It was Nelson Mandela.
Throughout those bitter years of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, many of us often stood on freezing pavements outside South Africa house or outside supermarkets trying to encourage people not to buy South African produce. During that time, a second battle was being fought against colonialism and racism in the Portuguese colonial empire—Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands. I was deeply involved in that campaign. When Franco died and then Salazar the year after, after 20 years of a liberation struggle the Portuguese colonial empire collapsed. There was a process of rapid decolonisation. In Angola, oil and diamond-rich, the South Africans invaded from the south and the Zairians invaded from the north, and it was only the Cubans coming in to fight with the MPLA that prevented South Africa from taking over Angola.
Stephen Sedley, who retired but two years ago as a Lord Justice of Appeal, and I were invited out there as friends of the liberation movement to serve on the commission that observed the mercenary trials— 13 mercenaries were captured at the end of the Angolan war. I will tell but one story from that experience. I recall one night walking with Stephen and some of the other commission members down the bay of Luanda. On the beach, the black soldiers from FAPLA, the armed wing of the MPLA, and the black Cuban soldiers were boogying around a camp fire. We got to talk, and one Cuban, who spoke very good English, said, “For us, it is back to Africa. For us, it is about the memory of Lumumba, Mondlane and the great figures of the liberation movement who were killed by apartheid and racism.” But he also said, “It is Angola today, it is South Africa tomorrow. One day Nelson Mandela will be free.”
My third, more recent story is from two months ago. I opened the new North Birmingham academy in Kingstanding. That community was once scarred by racism. I spoke to two young black pupils, one from a West Indian background and one from an African background, who were discussing the experiences that one of them and some members of their family had had. They called those who had abused them on one occasion “little people”. One of the guys said, “I am proud to be black.” We then got into a discussion, and I found out that his hero was Nelson Mandela. Worldwide polls were conducted on five continents at the beginning of the millennium asking who was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. It is little wonder that every one of them said it was Nelson Mandela.
I wish to say two things in conclusion. First, I wish to pay tribute to all the veterans from the bitter wilderness years, above all in South Africa: Neil and Glenys Kinnock; Bob Hughes; Richard Caborn; my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain); and a man I knew very well, a good personal friend who tragically died young, Mike Terry, the secretary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Secondly, what is so remarkable about Nelson Mandela is the sheer triumph of the human spirit. This is a man who endured the unendurable, who saw some of his comrades taken out and hung. This is a man who was oppressed but ultimately broke the will of his oppressors. This is a man who was jailed for three decades and then came out and forgave his jailers, in the most remarkable act of national reconciliation, avoiding what could otherwise have been the most immense conflagration in southern Africa. He was truly the global giant of his century. We mourn his loss. Our world is a better world for Nelson Mandela. But we not only mourn; we remember that infectious smile, infectious optimism and infectious enthusiasm, and we smile at the memory of Nelson Mandela.
I do not stand here as a religious man, but I think that the whole House would agree that Rose Hudson-Wilkin got it exactly right on Thursday evening when, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), she appeared on the BBC. I think the mood of the nation was very much on her mind. It got me thinking about some of my early involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle, which was trivial in the scale of things compared with the suffering that many people faced. At the very trivial end was disrupting trade by boycotting tinned fruit—we could not afford the fresh—but I am also talking about causing major blockages of supply lines, boycotting sporting links, protesting in Trafalgar square and elsewhere, and persuading one major, very successful pension fund, which continues to be successful, to disinvest from southern Africa. Those were the roles that I undertook as a trade unionist activist at that time. They were a part of my political life that were frowned on by many of those who today join me in saying what a great man we have lost.
Let me turn now to the period that formed my thinking. As a child, I heard Macmillan’s “wind of change” speech in 1960—I only just remember it. Less than a month later, we saw the Sharpeville massacre. Then came the 27-year jailing of Nelson Mandela. What he went through and how he came out with such dignity is beyond comprehension.
The 1970s were dominated by the death of Steve Biko. In the 1980s, I was involved with the Congress of South African Trade Unions. I remember having visitors from COSATU in my house. We were obviously being trailed by South African secret service officials, even though BOSS was supposed to have been abolished by that time. It is a shame that the British state was a party to that. Then change started to occur. When it was announced late on 10 February 1990 that Mandela was likely to be released, my great friend Ifor Edwards, who is a general practitioner—he is also known to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson)—and I decided to get in a car to be part of the great party in Trafalgar square where Nelson’s column was quite rightly renamed Mandela’s column.
Last year, it was a great privilege to be with a South African Minister talking about the next generation telescope in South Africa. I was able to say to her that it was a pleasure to see that room from the inside rather than from the outside.
I want to correct the record. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) got his dates wrong when he referred to the plaque in Westminster Hall, which you played a great part in securing, Mr Speaker. Having started my contribution by praising a member of the support mechanism in the House, I will put in another challenge to you, Mr Speaker. On 8 September, as set out at column 562 of Hansard, I had an exchange with the then Leader of the House, now the Government Chief Whip, in which he effectively said that the wheels of this place turn mighty slowly. It had taken 10 years from the tabling of the early-day motion that I put down the day after Mandela came for that plaque to arrive in this House.
We need to reinforce the great work of that fantastic statesman. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) has come up with one idea, which is to place a great banner in the shadow Cabinet room. We need to go further and update the plaque, reflecting the dates of Mandela’s birth and death. Finally, we must remember that Mandela is the most revered statesman of the 20th century. He is a man who has touched us all, and who has set standards to which every politician should aspire, but only few will reach.
There have been many powerful, personal and moving tributes this afternoon and this evening, and it has been a great privilege and a humbling experience to listen to them. I want to add a brief tribute to Nelson Mandela on behalf of my own constituents. Many people in Nottingham have already written in the book of condolence in our city’s Council House to set down what Nelson Mandela meant to them, to mourn his loss and to celebrate his life and legacy.
Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to so many of us. He was an outstanding politician who achieved what, for so many years, seemed utterly impossible—overturning the evil of apartheid and leading South Africa’s new rainbow nation with exceptional grace, humour and humility.
I happened to be visiting a number of local primary schools on Friday so I was able to join their assemblies paying tribute to Nelson Mandela. The children I stood in front of were all born long after his release from prison; for them, the 27 years he spent in captivity is an unimaginable length of time, but in each school they knew the story of Nelson Mandela’s life. They knew what he had achieved for the people of South Africa and why his fight for a free, equal and democratic society was important not just for his country but for all of us, too.
Those children, who reflected the wonderful diversity of the city of Nottingham, understood, as we do, that Nelson Mandela was an absolute giant of our time, demonstrating not only dignity, courage, tolerance and forgiveness but the need to hope when all hope seems lost, to stand up for what is right even when it requires the greatest of sacrifices and to fight injustice, even when success seems impossible. Nelson Mandela’s struggle, his victory and the way he exercised power are an inspiration to us all. The greatest tribute we can pay is to try to apply the lessons he taught us about how to do politics and how to make a real difference.
I do not feel that I have anything unique to add to the debate, but as a Member of Parliament who has been offered the opportunity to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, I do not want to miss out on the chance to put my views on the record. I want also to reflect the outpouring of grief and celebration of this man’s life that I have witnessed in my constituency. Whether at religious ceremonies, in schools or community groups or at sports events, people have taken time to reflect and the community has come together to recognise the passing of this extraordinary man.
When we look back through history, we see that it is littered with people who are considered to be outstanding individuals. All too often, their start in life has given them a leg up or an opportunity that others do not get. When we read about Nelson Mandela’s childhood, however, and listen to interviews about when he was growing up, we hear that he grew up in a country that did not put any value on educating its black population. He relied on charities and religious organisations with missionaries who set up, built and furnished schools to provide him with a start in his education. He then left his community and went to Johannesburg, where he witnessed some of the worst poverty he had ever seen in his life. I like to think that somebody who comes from such a humble background is armed with something that other people do not have when it comes to challenging authority and making a real change on behalf of the people they represent. When he was confronted with a Government who refused to budge, he knew that each concession he might give in those negotiations was another injustice for the people he grew up with and knew so well.
The thing about him that touched my community and all of us so much was that having been through all that, having joined the freedom struggle in his country, and having suffered the indignity and injustice of 27 years of incarceration just for having the temerity to ask for freedom, when he was freed he put his country first above any personal consideration of retribution. He realised that only through peace and reconciliation could he prevent his country from being destroyed for generations on the back of the hatred and recrimination that would follow if he were to allow things to descend into any kind of internal conflict. The integrity and intellect he applied to his politics gave the leaders of the white minority population of that country the confidence that this was a man to lead their country through that process of reconciliation.
When we talk about the apartheid regime, we often overlook the fact that Nelson Mandela became an icon for people who were challenging racism. He met the family of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and he said that
“the threat of fascism and racism is threatening the whole world”.
We should not forget those words.
The day after Nelson Mandela died, we put a message from him in the window of our Eltham constituency office:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
I can think of no greater tribute for us as Members of Parliament than to bear those words in mind when we make decisions, not just on international issues confronting us but in our communities and our society, and by having the courage of our experience that tells us what is the right thing to do on behalf of our community, taking forward Nelson Mandela’s legacy and the example that he gave to us all.
It is a great mystery to my children that it was not until I was 33 that I saw the face of Nelson Mandela in 1990. While I enjoyed a good life, going to primary school, secondary school and university, getting a job and developing my life, getting married and having children, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his belief in a non-racist society in which everyone had an equal vote and could contribute, and in which people felt valued for who they were, not what they were seen to be by others.
I first felt the ripples of Nelson Mandela’s influence when I went to Hull university in 1975. I knew nothing of him before then, but to meet South Africans in exile, both white and black, bishops and students, who had come to the city with a message against South African oppression and about the work of Nelson Mandela in prison, calling on people on the other side of the world to join them in their struggle to help to relieve the pressure on lives in South Africa, was an immense privilege. Like many speakers today, I did not buy Cape apples or Stellenbosch wine, and I did not support the purchase of such goods from supermarkets. I, too, did not allow my university to profit from companies such as Barclays and Reckitt and Colman that invested in South Africa at that time.
Those were big challenges, but to people who ask whether it was worth it and whether anything changed, I believe that the ripples of Nelson Mandela came to us, and we put one pebble on the roof of the apartheid regime, and pebbles across the world were put on that roof until it fell in and Nelson Mandela was free. Those were difficult times. Steve Biko was murdered in a police cell. People routinely fell out of windows, or fell downstairs; they drowned in the bath; they were shot with a shotgun in the back of a vehicle for demanding the right to vote. We meet today to celebrate that life and to say to the people we represent, “Thank you for your small pebble on the roof of the apartheid regime—thank you for your contribution.” We stand here to celebrate the life of someone who stood for equality of opportunity¸ for fairness and justice, and who believed in the right to vote.
When I take school parties round the House of Commons I stop at two spots: first, the statue of Viscount Falkland, to which women chained themselves to get votes for women, to ensure that they voted in this community. I will now stop, for ever and a day, as long as I can serve in the House, at the plaque in Westminster Hall, and say to schoolchildren that I was privileged to stand in the Hall as a Member of Parliament and hear a man who had given 27 years of his life in the struggle for freedom speak to us as a free man. I will reinforce for those young people the fact that he did so, not just for freedom and for justice but for the right for all people to vote as equals.
That is a lesson for democracy for the future, and it is a lesson for us now. I am privileged that, although I never shook hands with Nelson Mandela—he walked just past me on that great day on 11 July 1996; I was three rows in—I saw him speak, I learned of his struggles, and I put one small pebble on that roof and helped in a small way, with many other people, to make South Africa the place that it is today, and I hope to encompass the values of Mandela for future generations.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents in this incredibly special tribute debate.
I could scarcely believe the breaking news on Thursday night. It was a moment when the world stopped. South Africa had lost the father of its nation. The world had lost a very special leader and friend. But the debate and discussions over the past few days have brought him into our lives again in the most special of ways—so many people across the world sharing their memories and thoughts at the passing of a man who, in his own incredible way, had touched the hearts of so many millions in every corner of the globe. One of my constituents, Dave Howell, wrote to me on Friday and said he hoped there would be an annual international memorial day for Nelson Mandela, something I hope can become a reality and help to keep his memory alive for future generations.
Nelson Mandela was a leader who touched everyone. Everyone has a memory of meeting him or seeing him, of the way he inspired them or just the way he made them feel. I, too, was a child of the apartheid era. It helped shape my political consciousness. It was a time of political awakening for a generation of activists who were drawn together under the umbrella of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. This was one of my first experiences of campaigning, even before I joined the Labour party. It was unbelievable to me as a school pupil in a diverse place like Hounslow that there was a country in the modern world that practised and sanctioned segregation and such fundamental race inequality. I remember his release, the footage of him walking to freedom—quite an unbelievable moment to witness, so captivating through the television screen that you felt you were there. Such dignity, such humility, such magnanimity.
I would like to share with the House the words of Elizabeth Hughes from Feltham. Writing to others in an e-mail this weekend, she said:
“You will also I am sure be mourning the sad loss and remembering the achievements of Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela has been a symbol of hope and reconciliation, not just in South Africa but also throughout the world. I was very fortunate to meet him in 1996 when he visited London that summer. It was an overwhelming and inspirational experience to speak to him and then to hear him talk to the gathered crowd in Regents Park about his personal debt to the people of London and the wider British community who supported him on that Long Road to Freedom.”
He was not only the father of his nation, but a father figure to all who struggle for justice across the world. For my generation, the struggle against apartheid is a defining one. The boycott of Barclays, Cape and other South African companies and products was citizen action in pursuit of a just cause, proof that individuals anywhere can make a difference.
It is significant that the Anti-Apartheid Movement was founded in 1959 in London as the Boycott Movement. In February 1960, a month before the Sharpeville massacre, the leader of the Labour party, Hugh Gaitskell, was one of the key speakers who addressed a rally in Trafalgar square to launch the Boycott Movement. The Labour leader said that the boycott was a passionate protest against a repulsive doctrine that a man’s legal status, political rights, economic opportunities and social position shall be determined solely by the colour of his skin. There were those who opposed the boycotts, but history has proved them wrong.
When Nelson Mandela visited London in 1996 after his release, reports showed that the scenes in Brixton and everywhere he visited were akin to Beatlemania. His address to the Labour party conference in 2000 was a time I will never forget. It was such a privilege to be there—a time when he thanked those in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the men and women in the Labour party who had given his struggle political expression and fought so unceasingly for an end to apartheid.
It is entirely fitting that a statue of Nelson Mandela should stand in Parliament square, alongside Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Lloyd George. The floral tributes I saw there today, and the queues and books of condolence set up across the country, are proof of the deep affection of the British people towards Mandela. Long after we are all gone, the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament square, the statue at the Royal Festival hall, and the many buildings and spaces named after him will be a reminder of a great man’s life and struggle and his impact on Britain. There is also the remembrance of others who fought apartheid, such as Steve Biko, after whom Steve Biko way in Hounslow is named.
The lessons of Mandela’s extraordinary political career are simple enough: that no system of repression and dictatorship can stand resolute in the face of mass resistance and opposition; that politics is the best answer to injustice; and that when the battle has been won, the right course for sustainable peace and progress is to seek truth and reconciliation. To move from a system of apartheid to one of non-racial government in the space of a few months, and without reprisals or revenge, is a testament not only to one South African, but to all South Africans. It is a peace that has lasted.
Today we stand in solidarity with the people of South Africa. We join them in mourning the passing of a great man and joyfully celebrating a great life. South Africa is a better place because of Nelson Mandela. The world is a better place because of Nelson Mandela. This House, and the whole world, extends its love and thoughts to the family of Nelson Mandela at this time.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to follow some truly brilliant speeches, not least the one we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). I want to make a brief contribution on behalf of my constituents as a tribute to Madiba and, in doing so, to pay tribute to a political idea: the idea of solidarity, a belief in togetherness and a belief that all we need to end injustice are open eyes and political will.
It has been said that Nelson Mandela was a politician, and he was. In fact, he was perhaps the best politician there has ever been. He wrote in 1969:
“A new world will be won not by those who stand at a distance with their arms folded, but by those who are in the arena, whose garments are torn by storms and whose bodies are maimed in the course of the contest. Honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who try over and over again”.
I read those words, which were written in prison, and know that however rough the path we travel, we must keep going.
I want to speak briefly about the contribution made to Mandela’s struggle, and that of South Africa, by a constituent of mine, but first let me pay tribute to the South Africans, to their will to see change in their country and to the thousands of anti-apartheid campaigners across the world and in the UK, including many in this House from whom we have heard today. That activism shaped my childhood. I want to say to each of those who took part in that struggle that for my generation they were an example. They set a standard of solidarity that we try to meet. At the time when apartheid reigned, certain alliances and geopolitical interests prevented some who could have acted from doing so. We must constantly challenge ourselves not to repeat that mistake.
My reason for speaking is not least to talk about the contribution of a constituent of mine from Heswall. He happens to have been my history teacher at Wirral grammar school many years ago. He was my teacher from my first year at school, and he also taught my sister. Bill McCaig’s hallmark as a teacher was his friendliness and enthusiasm. We all knew that about him, but what we never knew at the time, which we found out only recently, was his role in supporting the ANC in its fight against the vicious apartheid regime.
Today we are rightly telling Nelson Mandela’s story, and that of the whole movement. Bill was politically involved and, like many from Liverpool, he was also a seaman. It was through those political and professional links that he became part of a secret network of people linked to the ANC who, during some of the darkest years, when ANC leaders were all locked away, chose to keep the struggle alive. The ANC needed people who would not be suspected to go to South Africa to distribute leaflets and give hope that the ANC would not be crushed.
Bill is a scouser, but when asked to carry out dangerous work for South Africa, for people he barely knew and in a continent far from home, he answered the call. He used his position as a seaman to get to South Africa to distribute materials, pass information from the ANC in London, and take part in other operations. Along with many, many others, he put his freedom in jeopardy for the greater good. When I asked him why he did this, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think that in the end we would win.” The idea that history was on their side sustained him and his comrades. To me, this is what Madiba taught us. When we stand in solidarity across national borders, we make progress in human dignity. When we refuse to accept that our moral empathy ends at our country’s border post, we all gain in human happiness.
When talking to my old history teacher in recent days, Bill also said to me that attempts to deify Mandela should be resisted. Mandela was an acutely aware politician, and he knew that a successful country must be united. We are all the same, and given the right principles we all have the capacity to show love and care for one another. White people’s talents and skills were also needed in South Africa.
In 2005 Mandela came to London to teach us once again. I stood in the crowds, one face among thousands, staring up at our very great hero. When the music played at the end of his speech, I remember him dancing. He came on that occasion with an important message for us all—that the tyranny and oppression of poverty must end. The lesson I take from this is that people are the same the world over. I recently read a note Mandela wrote in 1993 in which he describes his priority before he became President. He said about his people:
“Specifically we must get them houses and put to an end informal settlements; end unemployment, school crisis, lack of medical facilities.”
Jobs, health, education: what we all want for each other. Let that be Mandela’s legacy.
I feel supremely unqualified to speak in this debate having followed people of such great knowledge and campaigning experience in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I think especially of my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), that great South African Welsh—if I may call him that—internationalist.
The main reason I am speaking is that I promised primary school pupils—my constituents—at Ysgol Bro Dyfrdwy in Cynwyd that I would do so. On Friday I was privileged to take part in their school assembly and to hear their tributes to Nelson Mandela. The thought came to me that many tributes will be televised and many people—the great and the good—will be speaking at them, but there are tributes and memorials all over our nation and all over our world that will not be recorded in the history books but will be equally heartfelt, sincere and well made.
It is fitting to remember those in the Anti-Apartheid Movement across the villages and small towns of England, Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. We have heard the great stories of struggle in London and our large cities, but we also need to remember that through the great grassroots organisations across our country—the trade unions and the churches—petitions were signed outside small branches of banks and people walked from door to door urging a boycott. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), I pay great tribute to those people and to the Welsh Anti-Apartheid Movement and its work in the campaigning struggle across Wales.
I would like to offer a short reflection on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There has been a great deal of talk about forgiveness and reconciliation as though they are natural phenomena, but I do not believe they are. One thing that the great struggle of Nelson Mandela proved was that forgiveness and reconciliation are not just moral or spiritual truths, and certainly not just abstract concepts; they were viewed as an absolute necessity for the change that needed to happen.
I pay great tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for the honesty you have shown in saying that you got it wrong on the apartheid issue. I have to confess that once upon a time I stood waving a placard outside the university of Bristol union against someone who was viewed as a very right-wing member of the Federation of Conservative Students. I could not possibly name that person; suffice it to say that I think he looks rather better sat in a green chair and wearing a tie with the flag of South Africa on it.
I am glad to have a chance to say a few words in tribute to Nelson Mandela. Edinburgh was one of the many UK cities that paid homage to Nelson Mandela by offering him the freedom of the city, which he gave us the honour of accepting. That award from Edinburgh came fairly late in the day—much later, I am afraid, than that from our friends in Glasgow—because Edinburgh city council required a two-thirds majority to grant someone freedom of the city and at the time the award was first suggested in the 1980s, as an act of solidarity, the council chamber did not, to put it tactfully, share the same political consensus on Nelson Mandela’s virtues as that shared by this Chamber today.
I am glad to say that when the freedom of the city was proposed some years later, shortly before the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh, the council agreed unanimously that it should be offered to Nelson Mandela, and President Mandela, as he then was, found the time to accept the award in person when he attended that Commonwealth meeting.
Although that freedom of the city came late, I can say with pride that we did not have to wait as long for the support given by many of the people of Edinburgh to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Like many communities up and down the country, many people in Edinburgh gave their support in many ways to the campaign against apartheid.
I want to mention three groups in particular. First, the Scottish trade unions, particularly the National Union of Mineworkers, headquartered in Edinburgh, played a leading role—similar to that played by the union in Wales, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis)—in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Scotland. As in Wales, the Scottish churches played a leading role in the movement. I should also mention the Scottish academics and students, not least those of Edinburgh university, who were at the forefront of the disinvestment campaign, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) also played an important part.
Edinburgh also became home to many exiles from South Africa during the apartheid years, no doubt because of those historic links and solidarity. In many cases, they were political activists who would, of course, have faced heavy penalties if they had conducted that activity in South Africa. They took part in, and inspired others to join, anti-apartheid campaigns in Edinburgh and elsewhere. Some of those South African exiles still live in Edinburgh. Although they will no doubt be in mourning, they will also be immensely proud of what Nelson Mandela did in his life for the country and for the world. As one of Edinburgh’s representatives in this Chamber, it is a great privilege and honour to have been able to offer my tribute to him today.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Speaker. I reiterate what other Members have said: this has been an exceptional debate and I am really grateful to be able to take part in it.
My husband John was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1952, during the apartheid era. He is a man of mixed-race and under the apartheid racial classification system he was defined as a Cape coloured. The daily indignities that he, his family and countless millions of other South Africans had to face had a profound effect on him: where he lived, the school he went to—not only were schools segregated; he was not allowed to start until he was seven years old—and the buses and trains on which he was allowed to travel all had a tremendous impact on him. He talked very movingly recently at an Oldham school that he visited with me. He recounted the time when a young black man was involved in a road traffic accident. An ambulance came, but it was a white-only ambulance. They refused to treat him, went away and the young man died.
Relationships were, of course, monitored. People were not allowed to marry outside their racial group. We were not able to go back to South Africa until after the elections when Mandela came to power.
The great love of my husband’s life was cricket. Obviously, he had not met me at that time, although I think he would probably still say that cricket is the great love of his life! Sport was used to undermine people. John and his family, including his mum and dad, played in the street with sticks. There were no cricket clubs; they were segregated. In spite of that, John’s dad, Cec, along with Basil D’Oliveira, was selected to play for South Africa, but for a non-white South Africa. These dehumanising experiences had a profound effect on John and millions of others.
John felt much guilt at escaping from the horrors of apartheid when he came to live in this country in 1962, leaving others, including family members, to continue the struggle. His cousin was imprisoned during the regime, and that bore heavily on her life and that of the family.
For John and countless others Nelson Mandela stood as a beacon of hope. His drive for democracy and equality for all races was unrelenting, but what made him one of the most exceptional human beings of all time was that, in spite of all that he had been deprived of, the physical and emotional trauma that he was put through, he embraced that without bitterness or recrimination. It would have been so easy and understandable to have responded to that in a different way. I have no doubt that the relatively smooth transition from white minority rule to democratic South Africa was down to him.
Many people have said that Mandela made them want to do better and be better, and that is absolutely right. As much as he saw the goodness in others, we recognised the goodness in him. He was an archetypal leader, living the values he espoused with dignity, humility and honour, trying to make South Africa, and in turn the world, a better place.
The world is a better place as a result of Nelson Mandela. We have much to be grateful to him for and to learn from him. But it is far from perfect. Britain is still a very unequal country. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been sincere in recognising his strengths and values, but words ring hollow if they are not followed up by action. I urge all hon. Members to consider that. It is unacceptable in this country in this day and age that one in four young black men is unemployed, and one in 14 young white men is unemployed. We must do something about such inequalities. They persist even across groups with the same educational attainment levels. We must redouble our efforts to build a fairer, more just society. It would be an insult to Mandela’s memory not to do so. Madiba, with love and gratitude, rest well.
How fitting that this day of all days in Parliament should have begun with prayers led by the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the first black woman to become Speaker’s Chaplain. I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate, but I am grateful even more to colleagues on both sides of the House for the privilege of listening to their reflections on Nelson Mandela and the inspiration that they have drawn from his life.
At the time of the South African Barbarians rugby tour of 1979, my wife Caroline and I were young newlyweds, and I remember that we made the journey only a few weeks into our marriage to protest against the tour. We were not politically sophisticated—my colleagues will no doubt attest to the fact that not much has changed—but we recognised the simple injustice of apartheid and we had to express our revulsion to it.
I was privileged in 2006 to be shown into Mandela’s cell on Robben Island by Ahmed Kathrada, the youngest of the defendants in the Rivonia trial. He allowed me a few quiet moments to reflect on the 27 years of my life that had passed since going on that first demonstration—the same period that Mandela had spent in that cell. It was profoundly humbling.
I am here today not to express my personal reminiscences, but to express the respect of my constituents who feel that their lives are enlarged by the knowledge that they have lived at the same time as Mandela. My borough of Brent is perhaps the most diverse place in Europe, and perhaps it is for that reason that it was the first to honour Mandela by naming a street after him. Brent understands his essential message that people of different race and different belief can and must live alongside one another.
It is said that power corrupts, but the truth is that power reveals. It allows the powerful to show their true nature. The reason that power seems to corrupt is that too often it reveals the corrupt nature of those who gain power. The glory of Nelson Mandela is that power revealed in him not rancour and bitterness but the extraordinary noble nature, the great soul of one who had suffered and not forgotten the purpose to which he had dedicated his life—the dignity of all human beings and their right to justice.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for clearing the parliamentary decks today to allow us to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. I offer condolences to his family and to the people of South Africa from the people of the Vale of Clwyd, whom I represent. I did not meet Nelson Mandela. I have no photograph of Nelson Mandela. I have not even been in the same room as Nelson Mandela. The one connection I have with him is that we shared the same birthday—18 July—although I was born a lot later than he was. That birthday is also shared by Fiona Owen, the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen).
Tributes have been paid across all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I want to emphasise the role that Wales, and particularly my area of Wales, played in the struggle against apartheid. The Welsh trade unions and the mining and steel communities played a great role, linking up with COSATU—the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Glenys and Neil Kinnock also played a big part, as did that adopted son of Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), along with Hanif Bhamjee, the organiser of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Wales, and the Welsh Churches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) has pointed out that it was not only in the great cities of Cardiff, Glasgow and London that the struggle took place. It took place in the small towns of my constituency, including the market town of Denbigh. The Anti-Apartheid Movement there was set up by Pat Bowker, Barbara Manley, Norman and Lynda Roberts, Dai Cuba and Dai Jones. In 1986, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Rhyl was set up by a dynamic, principled and dedicated young woman called Gill Roberts. She did such a good job that I married her seven years later.
There were others, including Jeff Blythin, a local folk singer who helped to raise funds for the Anti-Apartheid Movement, his wife, Janet Blythin, who was our banner maker, Jane Thomas and many others. We were involved in activities such as trolley bashes and boycotts, we invited ANC speakers down and we organised petitions and leaflets and press releases, as well as raising much-needed funds for the ANC.
Nelson Mandela has taught us many lessons, and the principal one is that of reconciliation. I believe that, if enough attention were paid to the matter, what he did for blacks and whites in South Africa could also be done for Shi’as and Sunnis, for Christians and Muslims, for Jews and Palestinians and, in our own country, for Protestants and Catholics.
Nelson Mandela has also taught us excellent lessons in leadership. Many of us in this House have inflated egos—[Hon. Members: “Never”!] I do not count myself among them, of course. We can all learn from his self-deprecation, his accessibility, his humour and his capacity for forgiveness. He combated bigotry not only in fighting apartheid but in standing up for gay rights and for people with AIDS.
Nelson Mandela was also a role model as a father. Tributes have been paid to his roles as a freedom fighter, a statesman and a politician, but he also played a great role as a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather. He was also a father to his nation and to many of us around the world. He said:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I was a teacher for 15 years before becoming an MP, and I think that if his political philosophy of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and equality can be matched with his educational and parenting philosophy of the uniqueness, individuality and brilliance of each and every one of us, there is a much greater chance of our providing the future Nelson Mandelas that this world so desperately needs.
I am tremendously privileged to pay my own tribute. What I have to say feels inadequate in the light of the gargantuan contributions of some of my right hon. Friends, but it is important to me, on behalf of the people of Chesterfield, to have a few moments to reflect on our admiration for Nelson Mandela, as shown by the books of condolence that have been signed in Chesterfield town hall while we have been speaking. I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and for Neath (Mr Hain) on their speeches, which I found deeply moving and incredibly powerful.
Mandela’s massive contribution to the world was not just, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, as
“a pivotal figure in the history of South Africa”,
but as someone who gave a wider example to humankind of forgiveness, bravery, tolerance and self-sacrifice in pursuit of higher ideals. Other hon. Members have spoken about the role played by this country in the best and the worst of South Africa’s history.
I know how many from Chesterfield were involved in their own way in the British arm of the struggle against apartheid. I remember my mother moving her bank account from Barclays, as many opponents of apartheid did, and the numerous tiny gestures made by so many people, which all maintained the pressure of the world against the idea that South Africa’s way of operating was normal or acceptable. We remember the huge message sent around the world by the 70th birthday concert at Wembley, and we know how important the sporting boycotts, from the D’Oliveira affair to the bans for cricketers who played in South Africa, were for a proud sporting nation such as South Africa. It was therefore so uplifting that Mandela should have recognised the huge role of the Springboks in the psyche of white South Africa. By extending the arm of friendship to, and supporting, the 1995 Springbok team that famously won the rugby world cup, he showed the tremendous gift of forgiveness, which will be his enduring legacy. Long after all those who remember apartheid have gone, his example will shine through the pages of history.
As I reflect on Britain’s role in the history of South Africa, I recall from my childhood my parents’ friends Mike and Jeanette Murphy, who fled from house arrest in apartheid South Africa, where Mike worked as a trade union secretary for the black Transport and General Workers Union, as well as their tales of life under the regime. I well remember Jeanette’s pride in and sorrow for the beautiful country that they had been forced to leave, and that was very powerful for me in my formative years. I also remember the sense of frustration that while so many British people opposed apartheid, our Government provided the regime with a cover of authenticity and defence.
More than anything else, my reflections are on Mandela the icon—the generous hero, whose memory we are so proud to recall today, and whose example will inspire us for many decades to come.
After so many brilliant speeches, I have the humble task of presenting the thanks of the constituents of Ogmore for, frankly, a towering figure of the 20th century, who faced the most extreme adversity and was prepared to live and, as we have heard, to die in fighting the evil oppression of apartheid, while also being outspoken in the defence of many other oppressed people throughout the world. Nelson Mandela was very human—flawed in the way that we are both blessed and cursed to be, and open to doubts, despair and errors, as we all are—but he never wavered from his central mission to remove the stain of apartheid from South Africa. In doing so, he went further and reminded all of us flawed individuals that we can strive to be our better selves, the people we want to be and the embodiment of the society we want to create.
We have to learn and re-learn those lessons anew each time we face oppression and cruelty or attacks on freedom and equality. The continued oppression of so many people in so many countries and regions around the world is a continuing reminder that such battles for freedom, equality and tolerance will continue, and that we should never turn away and never be silent.
Yet Nelson Mandela showed time and again that victory and success are found not just in how people battle their oppressors, but in how they seek the peace and rebuilding of a nation. After 27 years of captivity and isolation, after his release and his subsequent electoral success, and at every moment at which he might understandably have sought vengeance, he sought only truth and reconciliation. In place of hubris, there was humility. In the early days after apartheid, when he and the ANC could have turned against their former oppressors, he urged them to turn towards them and to work together for a better collective future. The magnitude of that magnanimity is incredible, even today. It is compelling evidence of the tactical and visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela.
I had the privilege, like many Labour MPs, of seeing Nelson Mandela speak at the Labour conference. He carried the expectations of a nation on his back. No matter how strong the frame, that is a weight that could break lesser men. What is not often remarked upon is his humour—a bright and infectious easy-going humour. Despite having had the most grotesque and extreme of life’s Kafkaesque travails visited upon him and his fellow men, women and children in South Africa—or perhaps because of that—he came through it all with an optimism that people are capable of the greatness, compassion, kindness and collective good will that will ultimately defeat the terror of the darkest night.
Flawed as we are, we are capable of far better than we imagine. We can be better than we think we are. That is perhaps the greatest and the most enduring global legacy of Nelson Mandela.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) said that Mandela hated to be classed as a saint. What he wanted to be was a sinner who was helping others. I will talk about some of the people he tried to help in his country while he was in prison and about some of the people around the world who helped him.
On 16 September 1986, 177 miners were killed at the Kinross gold mine in the Eastern Transvaal when a welder’s spark ignited plastic foam lining the wall of a tunnel. That foam was banned in other mines around the world, but such was the contempt that the owners of the gold mines in South Africa had for their workers that those 177 miners were just the latest figure. The number would reach 96,000 people between 1900 and 1993. A British miner who worked at the mine said:
“They didn't stand a chance—they were trapped by the smoke.”
They were killed “where they stood”. The leader of the union at that time, Cyril Ramaphosa, said:
“We are horrified that this type of accident can take place in this day and age in the mining industry. In our view we are obviously back to the dark ages of mining—and there doesn’t seem to be much improvement in safety standards”.
What compounded the disaster was that the owners of the mine delayed the announcement that it had happened. They then refused to name the 177 individuals and instead announced them by ethnic group. They were Zulu or Bantu. Such was the contempt that people were not even named when they died. That contempt was further compounded when the union asked to hold a memorial service. It was banned from doing so in South Africa. I am proud that, even though we should not have had to do it, the National Union of Mineworkers, of which I was a member at the time, smuggled Cyril Ramaphosa out of South Africa and held a memorial service in Sheffield cathedral. The great role that that city played was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). That should not have been necessary, but it is a tribute to ordinary working people around the world that they did such things.
I will talk briefly about some of the people in this country who worked for South Africa. The leader of my party said earlier that there are millions of names that we do not know. I want to mention four names: John McFadden, a Glaswegian, Rita Donaghy, now Baroness Donaghy, and Ralph Gayton, who are three former presidents of my union, Unison, and its predecessor, the National and Local Government Officers Association, and Jan Stockwell, who was an international officer of the same union. They spent weeks in 1984 going to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. They took travellers cheques to that country, cashed them and put the money in the hands of ordinary men and women so that they could build and organise trade unions.
That trade union movement was there all the time to support the struggle against apartheid and it was there when Mandela came out of jail. That provided a network that he could build on. That is where he got his strength from when he came out of jail. It was on that group of people that he built the democratic society that we know today. The TUC in this country gave Nelson Mandela a gold medal in absentia and launched a major campaign, working with the boycott campaign. Rodney Bickerstaffe, who was the general secretary of Unison and the National Union of Public Employees, visited Mandela in jail and brought back a smuggled tape, which was played at the TUC conference. When millions of people do the right thing, it is the epitome of what trade unions and ordinary working people can do when they come together. Nelson Mandela was hugely proud of and grateful to trade unionists across the world, and he identified himself clearly as one of them.
In closing, I wish to refer to a quotation that has been mentioned at least twice today, most recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). Nelson Mandela said that people can be taught to love in the same way that they can learn to hate. Showing international trade union solidarity, that quote is on the US Labour Against the War website. Ordinary people are coming together to support a great man who really made a change in the lives of other ordinary people.
Today in the Chamber, and over the past few days, we have heard many moving tributes to Nelson Mandela from across the world. We have heard about his amazing humanity in spite of his 27-year imprisonment, his humility in spite of his extraordinary leadership qualities and worldwide stature, and his forgiveness for and reconciliation with those who prosecuted and imprisoned him. Those are the qualities that we remember and revere.
Those of us of my generation who were at university in the ’70s first heard of Nelson Mandela through the Anti-Apartheid Movement. That is in contrast with the fact that in 2005, my niece became a member of a class and a house named after Mandela at her school. In my day, in the ’70s, the movement was still quite frowned upon. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) said, we often wondered whether we would ever make any difference through the various demonstrations and rallies in which we were involved, through calling for trade sanctions and disinvestment in South African, through trying to persuade fellow students to boycott Barclays bank or through looking at where oranges came from before buying them, not to mention through the higher-profile sporting campaigns.
Of course, most of us who have not visited South Africa could scarcely comprehend the second and third-hand accounts that we heard of the day-to-day reality of apartheid—the indignity, the harassment, the oppression, the denial of opportunity, the entrenched inequality, the violence and the struggle.
The most extraordinary thing about Nelson Mandela was his ability and capacity to drive forgiveness and reconciliation. If some Members have found it difficult today to listen to those who they feel condoned the apartheid regime, actively or tacitly, they should think about how much more difficult it was for him not just to show personal forgiveness for all the suffering that he had endured but to inspire others to come together and work together to overcome deeply entrenched attitudes of hatred, violence and the temptation to seek revenge.
The way in which Nelson Mandela went on to lead his country, and then to change attitudes towards HIV and AIDS and work on the world stage, was amazing. He was able to come from oppression to lead constructive reconciliation. The most important way in which we can pay tribute to him is to continue to challenge injustice wherever we see it, both in our own country and across the world, particularly, as many Members have mentioned, in the middle east. We should seek to reach out and speak to those on both sides of conflict, even if that seems an impossible task. The message of Nelson Mandela’s very, very long walk to freedom and his remarkable optimism in the face of tremendous adversity is that change is possible.
The people of Swansea Bay city region and Neath have been supporting this cause for more than 50 years. In 100 years’ time, the story of Nelson Mandela will be known and repeated by schoolchildren around the world when many other people are forgotten. It is a story of religious proportions. It is the story of a man who resisted the injustice of people not having rights or votes on the basis of their skin colour, who was imprisoned simply for his principles rather than for a crime, and who emerged from incarceration 27 years later not embittered but enlightened, offering the hand of friendship and partnership to his captors and oppressors—an act of forgiveness that avoided a future bathed in blood. We have already heard this quotation today, but I think that in 100 years people will still be reading and saying:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Mandela was born on 18 July 1918, which happened to be six days before the birth of my father, whose own father died when he was 12, as did Mandela’s. Other global events were taking place at the time. John F. Kennedy was born in the preceding year, and in 1960, when he stood for the presidency, he did so largely on a platform of racial integration. That was the year in which I was born, and it was the tragic year in which 67 people were massacred in Sharpeville. They were innocent black protesters, and many were shot in the back. That was the point at which Mandela moved away from protest that involved no direct action and towards violent protest and sabotage, and the point at which the ANC was criminalised. Mandela took that action to focus the world’s attention on South Africa and the need for democracy and human rights, and some 200 acts took place during that period.
Meanwhile, in the State of the Union address, JFK was calling for the right of black people in America to vote, and the mood of the world was beginning to change. In 1962, when Nelson Mandela was arrested, the great majority of people thought that he would be executed. Nine out of 10 white people thought that he was just a terrorist, and very few knew that he was an attorney. It took the judge some three weeks to reach his conclusion, partly—as was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath—because of the demands for clemency, and partly because of the calculation that his execution would trigger an awful bloodbath.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), it took 25 years—until Mandela’s 70th birthday—for us to witness a crescendo in the calls for his release. At the age of 18, I was singing along to “Free Nelson Mandela” at that famous concert and supporting the cause. It was not until 1990 that Mandela was released, and famously said in response to the impending civil war between the ANC and other black groups:
“Take your guns, your knives…and throw them into the sea.”
It must be remembered that his principles were applied to black and white alike, some of whom would have wanted to see a violent end to what was a very long-lasting conflict.
As we all know, in 1994 Mandela was elected President. I find it very interesting that a person’s opinions can change and mature over 27 years, and that such a change can actually change the future of the world.
This was a man who kept going day after day, year after year, in incarceration, driven by ideals, not thinking of himself and with no fear for himself. This was a man who said:
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
He was a true global hero of his time. This is my favourite quotation:
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is…man-made and can be…eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
He also said:
“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.”
The spirit of Mandela lives on. Let us live our lives true to that spirit.
So far, 68 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken in this day of tributes to Nelson Mandela, and there will be two more, taking us up to 70. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this to happen: it was an entirely fitting tribute after the death of the pre-eminent statesman of our age. I also look forward to the event that you have allowed to be organised in Westminster Hall, where members of the public who have contributed so much to the battles that we have heard about today will have their chance to remember the struggles against the apartheid regime and to remember the life of Nelson Mandela.
We have heard many heartfelt speeches and observations in today’s tributes to the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela. He was clearly the pre-eminent politician and freedom fighter of his generation and of the many generations that followed in his long life of service and sacrifice. He was a worthy hero of our age whose life spanned great and profound changes in Africa as it moved from colonial domination to self-determination. In an era when notoriety and celebrity rest on trivial foundations, Mandela’s worldwide fame and popularity were of a wholly different and much more profound order.
We have heard today from those who met him and were able to work with him through the tough and desperate times as well as in the times of triumph, constitutional shaping and reconciliation after he was released from prison. We had three heartfelt and extremely good initial contributions to our tributes today from the Prime Minister, his deputy and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who pointed out the transforming power of politics that Mandela exemplified by his life and conduct. We have heard of the leading role of students, trade unions and churches in the movement to end the stain of apartheid in South Africa, many of which have been highlighted in the tributes today.
We heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who told us of his experience as Foreign Secretary at the time that change was beginning to happen. We heard a particularly great speech from the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who was gracious enough to ensure that the words of Peter Pike, the ex-Labour MP for Burnley and stalwart of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, were heard in this House on this day.
We had the self-effacing contribution from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy), who let us know that he had been mistaken for Nigel Kennedy and subsequently airbrushed out of photographs of meetings with the great man. We heard from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) who talked about the release of Mandela from jail being one of those pivotal moments in history. We heard from the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about the importance of the sports boycott, and from the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) about the importance of Glasgow’s anti-apartheid campaigning. The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) admitted that the Conservatives were not exactly on the right side of the struggle against apartheid.
We heard from the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), who noted the extraordinary absence of resentment and bitterness in Mandela’s response. We heard also from the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) who talked about his experiences visiting the destroyed Crossroads settlement, and also from the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) said that Mandela was a politician who answered the test of political leadership and was a shining example of what we can all aspire to.
We heard, too, from the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and the hon. Members for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), and the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) who talked about the important role played by Basil D’Oliveira, who was a constituent of his, and what happened to him. We heard from the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien) about his personal contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle, and we heard from the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) and the hon. Members for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming).
We have also had some magnificent tributes from those on the Opposition Benches, in particular from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), who made a magnificent speech at the beginning of our tributes, whose references ranged from Shakespeare to Amy Winehouse and who emphasised the belief that no injustice can last for ever, and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who brought his unique perspective, outlining in all its banality the evil precision of apartheid, and the connection between his family and the battle to end it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) reminded us that Mandela was a politician and party leader who was engaged in politics. This theme was taken up by other Members, who mentioned that in an era when politics is a dirty word we must remember the transforming potential of political change to make a difference in a good way to how societies develop and to bring about change.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), who represents the constituency in which the Anti-Apartheid Movement was founded in 1959, was very involved in the many campaigns against the injustice of apartheid and made a profound observation when he said Mandela made racists look pathetic.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) reminded us of what an inspiration Mandela was for many in this world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said it was hard to find words to do justice to what Mandela had achieved in his extraordinary life, with his calm, dignified and resolute approach. He was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) who reminded us of Steve Biko, who was murdered in police custody, as were many other fighters for freedom involved in the battle to end apartheid.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), 25 years a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, said it took too long for this country to recognise the fact that the South African leadership was actually on Robben Island and to engage with it. He also said reconciliation is built on forgiving, not forgetting, and truth has to come before reconciliation. He pointed out that justice was hard fought for and freedom was hard won.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) talked about the influence the South African constitution, which is one of the most progressive ever, still has on the battle for human rights. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) talked about how Mandela had said to him that you have to sustain your values in prison.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) gave a passionate speech about the effect of Mandela’s example in the communities he represents and among the black and minority ethnic communities struggling for equality in our country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) talked about the Kitson committee at Ruskin, which opened his eyes to the real situation in South Africa. Indeed, a theme of today’s tributes has been how many people had their eyes opened by the community in exile and how through their campaigning, often when they talked to students, the reality of what was going on in South Africa came to be known.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) paid tribute to those who fought apartheid and died doing so. He talked particularly about the evil of apartheid, and he also mentioned Bernie Grant and Tony Banks. We have also heard in detail about the contributions of Bob Hughes, Dick Caborn and the Kinnocks, who were absolute stalwarts of the battle. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) made a speech about living close to Robben Island and brought us his unique insight into what was happening there, after his family had emigrated to South Africa.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) made a particularly important point when she said that many took apartheid personally because it was so personal, and that the effect it had on the self-esteem of people of colour was so profound that it had to be fought. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) said that Mandela was a gift to the whole world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) recalled Mandela’s visit to Brixton, which is still remembered so profoundly. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) made the important point that the role that Africans played in South Africa in their own liberation was the crucial one, and that a lot of the work done in solidarity outside this place and in this country was helpful but not central to the battle for liberation which was won.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) said that the segregation and race hatred experienced by his black friends when he went to see them taught him the realities of apartheid. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) brought us an important Irish perspective on the struggle. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) also talked about Bob Hughes, rightly putting on the record the great work that he did, and praised his own city of Glasgow for granting the freedom of that great city to Mandela before anybody else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) talked with passion about the reality of a fight for equality and justice for those in the black community here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) once more recalled Glasgow’s solidarity and the work that went on in fighting apartheid then. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) remembered Mandela for being so successful in his fight against apartheid. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) spoke for many of us when he said that this battle against apartheid was the great progressive cause for those of us who were getting active in the 1970s and 1980s—I can identify with that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) talked about his connection to the struggles that were going on to strengthen the Anti-Apartheid Movement in north London. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said that Mandela achieved what many thought impossible, demonstrating that you have to carry on hoping when there is little hope left. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), and my hon. Friends the Members for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) all brought their own examples, in their profound speeches, of the battle for freedom and helping South Africa in solidarity with the people there.
I remember watching Nelson Mandela when he came to make that great speech to both Houses of Parliament, and my abiding memory is of him walking down the stairs of Westminster Hall hand in hand with one of your predecessors, Mr Speaker, the then Speaker Betty Boothroyd in July 1996. I also remember his address to the Labour party conference in 2000 at which he congratulated us on the first centenary of our party and looked forward to the next. He said:
“Britain was in so many respects the second headquarters of our movement in exile.”
He went on to say:
“Your solidarity helped to make those years in exile bearable and contributed to them not turning out to be wasted years.”
He congratulated us on our 100 years of history, and he said:
“To have sustained over a century such an organisation is a tribute not only to the Labour party, its leadership and members. It is testimony to the resilience of the spirit that continues to believe that the world can be made a better place for all. It defies and gives the lie to the pervasive cynicism and loss of hope that characterised so much of political life in the latter part of the last century.”
Finally, Nelson Mandela always appealed to the best rather than the basest of political instincts. I believe that is an example to which we should all aspire.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House who wonderfully reflected the debate and recalled the many moving, thoughtful and evocative speeches that we heard during the course of this remarkable tribute to Nelson Mandela.
May I join the shadow Leader of the House in thanking you, Mr Speaker, for enabling us to have this tribute to Nelson Mandela? I also look forward to Thursday afternoon and the opportunity for civil society and the wider public to come here to the Great Hall at Westminster to share the opportunity not only to commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela and dedicate themselves to his memory, but to celebrate his life. There will be organisations that, for decades, have supported his struggle and the people of South Africa. There will be South Africans in this country who will want to come and show their love and respect for Nelson Mandela, and it is a good and welcome opportunity for them to do it here at their Parliament.
We have heard many memorable speeches. Today has been an unprecedented opportunity for us to express our views, and we have met on the same day as the South African Parliament. Helen Zille, who was referred to by a number of Members, said that Nelson Mandela’s death
“united the world in grief but it has also united us in hope.”
That was evident in many of the speeches that we heard today.
Many speeches were prompted by personal memories. Most memorably, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) talked about a lifetime of memories of Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid, from which many of us learned. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) referred to the character of the struggle over decades against the evil of apartheid. Many Members talked very movingly and importantly about the nature of that struggle, which I know will also be reflected in the ceremony on Thursday.
The shadow Leader of the House referred to the remarkable speech of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). There was mention of shared ambitions and the further ambition that Nelson Mandela showed after he had left office as President of the Republic of South Africa in wanting to achieve great things, not least in the eradication of child poverty across the world.
The right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) and a number of Members talked about personal memories of living in South Africa. All of them told of a man whose courage, constancy of moral purpose, as the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, and power of forgiveness, as the Leader of the Opposition said, have been a world-changing feature of our age. As the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and the shadow Leader of the House said, it is sometimes said that he somehow transcended politics, but that is wrong as he used political means to achieve political objectives and in doing so was the epitome of a politician. He recognised that it is the nature of politics for there to be a conflict of interest, but the very best politician is somebody who enables those competing interests not to lead to conflict but to be reconciled. His pursuit of forgiveness and reconciliation is an inspiration for us all.
I visited South Africa in 1995 on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and even in the space of those few years and the year after that first election it was remarkable how parliamentary democracy and the assumption of parliamentary democracy for the future had been adopted in South Africa. That has persisted and for us, in this Parliament, that is something with which we can feel a strong fellow feeling.
The speeches have of course captured the character of a remarkable man, recalling his deeds, his achievements, his words, his unfailing courtesy, his personal courage, his values and, of course, his often mischievous sense of humour. A number of Members talked of him as a great man and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) rightly talked of how he had inspired him, and what a great man he was. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) talked about when he was asked by the National Portrait Gallery to nominate great figures of the 20th century, and Nelson Mandela was one of three whom he nominated. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) talked about him as a towering figure of the 20th century.
I am reminded that when Nelson Mandela retired as President, Tony Leon, whom I met in South Africa back in 1995, spoke of the fact that one can think of leaders who are great and good but that there is a special category beyond that. He described them as those who are great and good but have
“a special kind of grace”.
He could only think of two people who fitted such a category: Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
We are talking about somebody who is close to unique, but we can also think of him as unique. Not only was he clearly a towering figure of the 20th century, but he will also be regarded as a towering figure in the 21st century, not just because of the ambitions he enunciated after he left the presidency but because of his character, the nature of his approach to truth and reconciliation, the power of forgiveness, and his ambition and how he expressed it. As the right hon. Member for Neath and others recalled, at the Rivonia trial he articulated his determination that he had fought against white domination but would also fight against black domination —he was committed, and if necessary would give his life, to upholding justice and freedom. Those things will endure and we have as much need of them in this century as we did in the last.
In the South African Parliament today, Deputy President Motlanthe called on South Africa and the world to consider how Nelson Mandela’s legacy might be carried forward. In today’s debate, we have heard speeches on exactly that. The right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath talked about the eradication of child poverty and other Members spoke about the necessity of promoting justice and freedom in the world, of reducing poverty, discrimination and inequality and of using those principles of reconciliation and forgiveness around the world in areas as far apart as Korea and Syria and in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Members such as the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien) talked about how Nelson Mandela’s ambitions and approach in South Africa are entirely relevant and needed in the continent of Africa in this century and in the future. In that sense, many of today’s speeches would be regarded across the world as showing how we in this House and this country believe that Nelson Mandela’s legacy might be carried further.
Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) suggested that you might bind a copy of the speeches in today’s debate and send it to the South African Parliament. I hope that you will and that when you do, the South African Parliament will recognise that on the same day as they paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, we did so in like fashion. Like them, for us the dream has not ended.