My Lords, 50 years ago, almost to the day, this House met to pay tribute to a foreign statesman. Then, our tributes were for President Kennedy, a man seen to embody hope and change but whose life was cut short, his promise unfulfilled. Today, we pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, another man who epitomised hope and change but whose life was long and whose promise, towards the end of that long life, was triumphantly fulfilled. Although we are here to pay tribute to his achievements, I know that the whole House will want to send its deepest condolences to Mr Mandela’s family and friends, as well as to the people of South Africa, who have lost their leading light.
The story of Mr Mandela’s life—from herding cattle, to study, to struggle, to setback, to imprisonment and finally to victory—is so like a fable that it is easy to think that there was always bound to be a happy ending. That was not so. For 27 long years in prison, the struggle must have seemed endless and, at times, without hope. However, Mr Mandela did not give up, nor did he compromise his principles, even when release from prison was dangled in front of him. In his resistance, he was supported by many in this country and, indeed, in this House, most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. To their great credit, trade unionists, academics, journalists, politicians and people up and down the country campaigned tirelessly for his release. That came in 1990. Elected president of the ANC the following year, he, along with FW de Klerk, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Then, in South Africa’s first universal and non-racial elections, he became president in 1994. Macmillan’s winds of change had at last blown through South Africa.
If Mr Mandela’s first historic achievement was the moral leadership that he provided in the overthrow of apartheid, his second was the extraordinary way in which he brought about reconciliation and led his country away from violence and civil war. On his release from prison, he was passionate, not angry, and magnanimous, not bitter. How many of us, if we had been kept in prison for 27 years and been prevented from attending the funerals of our own mother and son, would have had the moral strength and political wisdom to forgive our enemies? That South Africa at last respected the political destinies of free men and did so without a violent revolution was undoubtedly due in large part to Mr Mandela’s extraordinary grace as a human being after his release from prison.
Having become president, Mr Mandela then stood down after just one term—a rarity among leaders from any country. However, the end of his presidency did not signal the end of his work to create a better South Africa. He campaigned tirelessly for more research into HIV and AIDS and for better education and treatment. He named his HIV and AIDS fundraising campaign after his Robben Island prison number and made a huge impact by announcing to the world that his own son had died of AIDS. He used his moral authority on the world stage to persuade other leaders to take action on AIDS, leaving a legacy that will be felt by generations to come.
Mr Mandela’s statue rightly stands next to Abraham Lincoln’s in Parliament Square. He wears a free-flowing shirt; his arm is raised in oratory and open welcome. His connection with this Building is a real one. In 1996, he addressed both Houses during a state visit as president, making a passionate plea for people around the world to work together to build a new Africa; and, in 2000, he returned to be made an honorary Queen’s Counsel under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, as Lord Chancellor.
It would be easy to slip into hagiography in talking about Nelson Mandela, but we do not have to pretend that he was a saint to recognise his achievements and his extraordinary power over the imagination of the world. In his inaugural address as President of South Africa, Mr Mandela said:
“Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement”—
a fitting epitaph for the life of Nelson Mandela himself.
My Lords, it is a real privilege to lead my Benches in paying tribute to the most extraordinary man, Nelson Mandela, a humble giant with indomitable courage who provided a moral compass for his country, his continent and our world. Today we celebrate his life but, like the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I send our condolences to the family and friends of Nelson Mandela.
There are few people of whom it can truly be said that their life had an impact on the world, but such was the life of this brave man who, through oppression, understood that evil must never be accommodated or accepted; rather, it must be resisted and overcome. His belief in democracy and a free society was so strong that he was prepared to die for it. Since the announcement of his death, and, indeed, since he guided the South African people to freedom and democracy, the world has rightly revered Mandela, whose dignity, compassion, generosity and power of forgiveness knew no bounds. However, in remembering the peace and reconciliation which became a model for the world, we should not forget the struggle which went before, when he was fighting for the liberation of his people who lived with the evil of apartheid, which crushed “non-violent struggle” with “naked force”. As he said, however, he was fighting not people but principles. In doing so, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday:
“He faced the insult of being labelled a terrorist”.
The struggle led to 27 dark years in jail, 18 of them under the brutal regime of Robben Island, but a place where thanks to his leadership there was comradeship and a thirst for education, football for fitness and team building, and the vision of a new South Africa was born.
It is almost beyond belief that when free from prison at the age of 71, he embraced the colossal task of building a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, would be able to walk tall, without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity—a rainbow nation at peace with itself in the world. The way in which he did this, with magnanimity, love and understanding of his fellow human beings, as well as with idealism and courage, seemed to show the world that love is stronger than hate and that the human spirit can triumph over inhumanity.
There are many behind me who are far, far better qualified than me to speak about Nelson Mandela. I am very proud of their actions, but also of my party’s relationship with the ANC in exile, its support for the Anti-Apartheid Movement and its support for political activists and their families through international defence and aid. My noble friend Lord Joffe was a defence lawyer at the Rivonia trial, and who, the accused said after the trial,
“has understood and accepted that, above all else, we would not compromise our belief or consciences for legal advantage and in that understanding he has advised us along a course which we fully believe to have been politically correct, and legally as well”.
My noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside, who cannot be in his place today, was the energetic chair of the Anti-Apartheid Movement for 20 years and was instrumental in increasing its support and focusing its activities in the 1980s, leading the campaign against the Government’s refusal to impose sanctions against South Africa and helping to bring about the end of apartheid.
My noble friend Lady Kinnock was a tireless fundraiser and supporter of the families of political prisoners, as well as a friend to many in exile. My noble friend Lord Healey introduced Mandela to Hugh Gaitskell in 1962, and later visited him in his cell on Robben Island. My noble friend Lord Boateng was high commissioner in South Africa, which must have been a joy after a lifetime campaigning for justice. Many of my noble friends who worked in trade unions did everything possible to show solidarity with the oppressed workers in South Africa. Other noble friends worked with their churches to bring about change and I know that the vast majority of my colleagues were members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and that makes me proud.
My noble friend Lord Kinnock, when leader of the Opposition in the 1980s, was unwavering in his support for Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid. It was when I worked for my noble friend that I had the honour of meeting this legend, when I made and served him tea. As for so many noble Lords, the Anti-Apartheid Movement was part of my political life—indeed, my family’s life: the marches and demonstrations, latterly with children in pushchairs, the careful weekly shop to ensure that nothing from South Africa found its way into the shopping basket—and I played a small part in organising the 1988 Mandela 70th birthday concert at Wembley.
It was therefore the most enormous pleasure and privilege to shake his hand when he came to meet my noble friend and the shadow Cabinet. I was reminded by Richard Caborn, who in 1990 was an MP and treasurer of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, that at the time Mandela was still deemed by Parliament to be a terrorist and he was unable to book a Committee Room for a meeting with MPs.
Nelson Mandela was not a saint, he was an exceptional human being who started life in a hut and, like 80% of his fellow South Africans, suffered oppression because of the colour of his skin. His thirst for justice was the catalyst for his training as a lawyer; his hunger for freedom and his passion for equality of opportunity drove him to fight against the evil of apartheid; his empathy and personality enabled him to work with President FW de Klerk, to bring democracy to South Africa; his belief in the power of peace and reconciliation enabled him to lead the citizens of his country to the birth of a new South Africa.
On Robben Island, the prisoners had a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare, which they called the Bible. Each prisoner marked their favourite passage. Mandela’s was from “Julius Caesar”:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come”.
It is clear that Nelson Mandela died only once. There are many apposite quotations from Shakespeare, but I will end with Ben Jonson’s words about Shakespeare, which sum up the truly great but humble and compassionate Mandela. His genius,
“was not of an age, but for all time”.
My Lords, I associate those of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches with the condolences expressed by the Leader and shadow Leader of the House to the family of Nelson Mandela and to the people of South Africa.
It is a reflection of the stature of Nelson Mandela, of a life conspicuous for the breadth of his humanity, and the profundity of his messages of reconciliation and inspirational hope, that tributes such as this will be being paid in parliaments and assemblies on every continent. But more than that, as befits a man who radiated such humility, tributes and prayers have been said not just by Prime Ministers and Presidents, but by ordinary people of every colour and creed.
I never had the honour of meeting Mr Mandela, but as he was leaving Westminster Hall after addressing both Houses of Parliament in 1996, he stopped at the end of the row I was sitting in to talk to two young children. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, remembers that he stopped at the end of many rows. I cannot put adequately into words the experience. Yes, it was his humanity; maybe, too, it was the proximity of someone who had endured so much and subsequently achieved so much for his people and his country; maybe it was his challenging words still ringing in my ears; but to say that his presence was magnetic would barely start to describe the aura of the man.
However, on the one occasion in my political life when my responsibilities brought me into Nelson Mandela’s orbit, I confess that I had to dare to disagree. Although he had wished a court in a neutral country with international judges to try the two men accused of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, President Mandela’s initiative eventually led to the handing over of the two men and their trial in the Scottish court in the Netherlands. In 2002, he visited the one man convicted, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, in Barlinnie prison. The BBC’s “Reporting Scotland” that night had an interview with Mr Mandela calling for Mr Megrahi’s removal to a prison in a Muslim country such as Egypt or Tunisia to serve out his sentence. This was followed by an interview with me, as Scottish Justice Minister, saying that the Scottish Government’s view was that we should abide by the UN resolution establishing the process, whereby any sentence would be served in a Scottish prison. Watching the programme at home in Orkney, my teenage daughter asked my wife, “So does that mean Nelson Mandela’s criticising my dad?”. When Rosie replied, “Probably, yes”, Clare thought for a moment and said, “Now that’s cool”.
That underlines the point that Nelson Mandela’s legendary status was understood and recognised across the generations as well as across continents. Young people who could not possibly remember his walk from prison, or the crowds waiting to vote in South Africa’s first properly democratic elections, nevertheless recognise that they have been alive during the lifetime of such a towering figure. And just as we, today, revere names of past generations such as Lincoln, Wilberforce, Gandhi, who championed the struggle for freedom, so too will future generations revere the name of Nelson Mandela—a man who transcended generations just as he bridged cultures and healed divisions; and just as he did when he addressed us in 1996. He did not shy away from reminding us of our colonial record or the dismissive response given by our forebears in the early years of the last century, when, as he said, his,
“predecessors in the leadership of the African National Congress came to these venerable Houses to say to the government and the legislators of the time that they, the patricians, should come to the aid of the poor citizens”.
But consistent with his powerful message of reconciliation at home, he talked to us about “closing the circle”, and said:
“Despite that rebuff and the terrible cost we had to bear as a consequence, we return to this honoured place neither with pikes, nor a desire for revenge, nor, even, a plea to your distinguished selves to assuage our hunger for bread. We come to you as friends”.
He concluded by challenging us:
“To close the circle, let our peoples, the ones formerly poor citizens and the others good patricians—politicians, business people, educators, health workers, scientists, engineers and technicians, sports people and entertainers, activists for charitable relief—join hands to build on what we have achieved together and help construct a humane African world, whose emergence will say a new universal order is born in which we are each our brother’s, or sister’s, keeper … and herald the advent of a glorious summer of a partnership for freedom, peace, prosperity and friendship”.
Our lasting tribute to Nelson Mandela is to take that challenge to our hearts, and respond with our actions.
My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues in the Cross-Bench group, may I be associated with the moving and well earned tributes to the life of Mr Nelson Mandela, who was such a towering person? We send our condolences to his family. I did not have the honour to meet Mr Mandela so, like many others, my regard for him and all that he stood for stems from his speeches and writings and from the reports of his actions.
It is impossible even to attempt to record all that Mr Mandela gave, not just to his country or to the continent of Africa, but indeed to the whole world. That so many people from across the world, be they rich or poor, powerful or weak, high or lowly, now hold him in such amazingly high regard, even though he did not attain public office until he was well into his 70s and was in office for only one term, speaks volumes about his personal greatness. Others have portrayed the life of Mr Mandela with greater eloquence than I can, but I will simply try to highlight four qualities of his that I am sure will endure.
First, he demonstrated over and over again his faithfulness to his beliefs. He had the courage, determination and discipline to stand firm, even if it meant spending many years in prison and separation from his family. As an aside, I suggest that Governments across the whole world should learn from his life: while oppression may appear to succeed for a time, the human spirit of brave people like Nelson Mandela will never be crushed. Secondly, wherever he was, he accorded to each his genuine belief in their unique, individual quality. He was always able to treat each one of his fellow human beings as being on life’s journey, whatever their role or status. Thirdly, he conveyed an inner sincerity and humility that made him really want to learn from others, even his jailers, irrespective of colour, creed or nationality. He was at heart someone who loved and respected his fellow human beings, and it showed. Fourthly, he had a lifetime commitment to unity; we all know that conflict is commonplace and often the easy option, whereas bridge-building, reconciliation and harmony are very much harder won. Nelson Mandela was at heart a unifier. The world needs more people with his special qualities.
What is the legacy that he has left for us and future generations? I suggest that over and above his intellectual qualities, his legal skills and his political instincts, he had one quality that found expression in everything and that will remain a challenge to us all: his generosity of spirit that he accorded to friend and foe alike. He had an inner generosity that enabled him to treat everyone, whatever their beliefs, with a pervasive dignity. We may not achieve the higher human qualities that characterised Nelson Mandela, but surely it is no defence if we fail to strive to emulate what he was able to achieve.
In the final paragraph of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mr Mandela wrote:
“I have walked that long walk to freedom. … But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended”.
This part of his long walk has ended. He has left the world a better place and his achievements will endure. May Nelson Mandela now rest in peace.
My Lords, I am keen to associate myself and all my colleagues who sit on these Benches with the tributes paid to Mr Mandela here and throughout the world. The focus on one man is extraordinary, but it is entirely right, for he was extraordinary. My thoughts and prayers go to all his family and friends and indeed to everyone in the whole country of South Africa, who have lost a father.
Two words have been repeated many times in the millions of words spoken about him: humility and dignity. In matters of faith, although he was baptised into the Methodist Church and went to a Christian school, he believed that religion was a deeply personal and private affair, yet the way that he lived out his faith by challenging unjust structures, and then through public service, was an example to all of us. He believed in the old African proverb that we are people through other people and that only by recognising the humanity in others do we ourselves become truly human. It was this reconciling message that Mandela lived out daily.
A priceless gift that Nelson Mandela gave us was helping us to understand forgiveness and healing through truth and reconciliation, thus enabling both the victim and the oppressor to progress. He fought a racist power structure but, when he gained legitimate political power, he did not answer racism with racism. He said, “We are not anti-white but against white supremacy”. He was a living testament to integrity and dignity—a courageous man who sacrificed his freedom for the elimination of racial oppression.
As well as prayers being said for Nelson Mandela and South Africa in churches up and down the country yesterday, as I am sure noble Lords are well aware, readings from the Old Testament prophets, and in particular yesterday readings from the New Testament featuring John the Baptist, will have been heard during services on the second Sunday in Advent. It strikes me as entirely appropriate that we should consider prophecy and prophets as we pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, who was himself a prophet.
Like most of us, I suspect, I am surprised at how someone who suffered as he did and was brought up under such circumstances as he was maintained his humility and dignity and ensured the downfall of an unjust regime. As we pay tribute to such an extraordinary man, it is far too early to talk properly of legacy, yet I wonder whether one reflection for all of us is what injustices and evils we are in danger of being comfortable with and complacent about in our time.
Prophets surprise and challenge us; so did Nelson Mandela. I find it hard to believe that I could survive and remain as humble and as dignified as he did if I had experienced circumstances similar to his. For me, the key question is: am I listening to the prophets, who are now pointing me to the issues about which I am in danger of being blind and deaf? How might we ensure that our fellow human beings are properly surprised and so change their way of life? May he, Nelson Mandela, rest in peace and may his prophetic humility and dignity, and that strong smile, continue to affect each and every one of us in our long walk to freedom.
My Lords, on Monday, 24 April 1964, Nelson Mandela, on trial for his life for planning a revolution to replace the apartheid Government, delivered his historic speech from the dock at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria. He ended with the words:
“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”.
We, his lawyers, had advised him to delete the “prepared to die” sentence, because it could be construed by the judge as an invitation to hang him. His response to our advice was that it was necessary for him to make that declaration, so that his people would understand that no sacrifice was too great in the battle for freedom. This would inspire them to carry on the battle when he was no longer there to lead them.
It was this indomitable courage which was the hallmark of Nelson Mandela. As a leader he epitomised leadership, political genius, integrity, justice, forgiveness, generosity and humility. As an individual he was warm and friendly, with a natural charm, keen sense of humour and an infectious laugh. He treated everyone as equals and with warmth and respect. For all these qualities to come together in one human being, to such great purpose, is unique.
Understandably, Nelson Mandela is revered and adored by all in South Africa, and beyond. He will endure as the inspiration for all their hopes for the future. It is a great privilege for me to pay tribute to the most revered and loved statesman of his time, and to be able to do this in your Lordships’ House. He always valued the support of the British people in the fight against apartheid and was a great admirer of our Parliament and this House. When I last met him about three years ago in his home in Johannesburg, he was sitting on a low sofa in his living room. Being quite frail, he struggled to rise. I said, “Madiba, please do not get up for me”, and he, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, replied as he rose, “I always stand up for a member of the House of Lords”.
My Lords, rightly, much has been said about Nelson Mandela’s genius at forging friendships across the divide of politics and creating unity out of discord. I saw him demonstrate this skill during his state visit to Britain in 1996. It is among my most treasured memories. He was undoubtedly the greatest statesman to visit Westminster in my lifetime.
I witnessed his self-discipline and professionalism when he made his memorable address, void of all bitterness, to the joint session of Parliament in Westminster Hall. I was worried about him negotiating the narrow steps of that hall, worn by a thousand years of history. I had warned him about them at the state banquet in Buckingham Palace the night before and I did so again next morning. “Don’t worry, Madam Speaker”, he said, when we met at St Stephen’s entrance. “I came to look at them at 6 o’clock this morning”. What a man he was. The trumpets sounded and with that he took my hand and we mounted the steps of St Stephen’s and into great Westminster Hall. He was then 78 years old. After the ceremony he made straight for Margaret Thatcher, who was in the audience, smiling happily, hand outstretched. She had branded him and the African National Congress as terrorists and she had resisted punitive sanctions against apartheid. But Mandela held no grudges. He said he hated apartheid—not white people.
Naturally, he will be remembered as South Africa’s first black president. But that was only half his achievement. What matters perhaps even more is that he was South Africa’s first democratic president—the first, we hope, in a long line of democratic leaders who will safeguard his legacy.
I was Chancellor of the Open University when we last met. I went to Cape Town to present him with the OU’s honorary doctorate. He was very fragile even at that stage, but he was gracious and as modest as ever. “I’m all right”, he told the press at a press conference afterwards, “Don’t worry, I’m all right”. He said, “I will tell you one thing. As soon as I get to those pearly gates you can be sure that I shall join the local branch of the ANC”.
There was no artifice about him. He believed in old-fashioned courtesies, tolerance and conciliation—qualities our own political leaders would do well to try sometime. But he was no stranger to discord. Mandela held the moral high ground and he created a rainbow nation shorn of the colour bar.
Much remains to be done in South Africa but his achievement set him apart among world leaders. He dispelled the racial prejudices that oppressed his people, disgraced its perpetrators and held his country back. He believed that the point of freedom was to make others free.
Goodbye Madiba, may we follow where you led.
My Lords, very briefly, perhaps I may add to the impressive tributes that have been paid by noble Lords on all sides of the House and reflect on the period, almost 30 years ago, when the Commonwealth was taking action as widely as it could to try to secure improvements in conditions in South Africa. It commissioned a group of wise men, who were sent out there to see what could be done at a time when Nelson Mandela had already spent 27 years on Robben Island. When the two selected—Tony Barber, a former Minister in this country, and Malcolm Fraser, a former Australian Prime Minister—went in to see Nelson Mandela, his first, most impressive, question was, “Can you tell me, is Don Bradman still alive?”. What more could he have said, even there, to those two in the prison and to the rest of us back here in Britain, to underline his qualification as something more than a citizen of South Africa—as a citizen of the world indeed? On that basis, I am sure that he deserved the support that he was already enjoying at that time.
My Lords, for 50 years since I first campaigned against apartheid in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre, Nelson Mandela has been a supreme inspiration to me. He showed unsurpassed bravery and endurance in his fight against oppression and unequalled humanity in his guidance to South Africa and the world. He had the strength to be merciful, the wisdom to be gentle and generous. I salute those qualities of truly great leadership. It was a marvellous privilege to meet Mandela the hero, a delight to know Nelson the man. I cherish memories of times together, of his mischievous humour and of his dazzling smile. To be called “comrade” by such a man was an irreducible honour. I join with countless others, here and across the world, in offering my affection and deepest sympathy to Graça, his widow, and to their family.
Nelson Mandela never forgot the past of hatred and bigotry, of searing injustice and violence, but from the outset his political life was resolutely committed to plotting, planning and building for a different future with his people. It was that which drove him to take up arms. It was that which gave him the resilience to withstand captivity and its dreadful indignities and tragedies. It was his fixation with the future that could be created which, in the late 1980s, made him withstand the proffered comforts of compromise and instead gain the courageous agreement of FW de Klerk to release him unconditionally and to prepare for non-racial democracy. It was Mandela’s dedication to the future which, above all, made him exert his full authority as a warrior, a convict and a leader to compel reconciliation when vengeful reprisal could have brought remorseless racial civil war and desolated South Africa.
As we pay tribute to Mandela’s determined and valorous idealism, we must do him the justice of recognising his daring realism. In this House, evolved through centuries of conquest and preferment, I would not lecture the leadership of a 19 year-old democracy about its conscience or its duty. I do not need to. In the most explicit terms, Mandela himself charted the course that must be followed. At the Rivonia trial, at which my noble friend Lord Joffe played a brave and distinguished part, when Nelson and his comrades were faced with the lethal probability of execution, he said in plain, provocative words which have resonated through the decades, as we have already heard from my noble friend:
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and see realised. But, my Lord, if it need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
He did live for that ideal, but did not see it realised. But he dedicated his life to securing the conditions in which it could be fulfilled by free people, governed by mortals who apply a measure of the integrity, dignity, bravery and sagacity that were central to Nelson Mandela’s being.
That was his true legacy. Honouring it must now surely propel the current leadership of the ANC into embracing reform and transparency, strengthening accountability and combating the self-indulgence and corruption which so retard Mandela’s beloved country and its people. If that course is not taken, Nelson Mandela will be their brilliant, brave, but unrequited dead hero. If it is taken, as he would have wanted, he will have a fitting, enduring, living memorial of full freedom in South Africa. He deserves that and South Africa sorely needs it.
My Lords, in 1990 I was in South Africa with my husband, doing something that Mandela had asked others to do, namely beginning the training of young Africans to fill places in the civil service, which they would have to do almost immediately if there was truly to be a rainbow nation and truly to be a South Africa that both administratively and politically represented all the peoples of that great republic.
We were in South Africa at the time Mandela came out of prison. I remember watching the march as he removed himself from the terrible, hellish place in which he had been, and recognising that there was the sense that day that the sun had risen over South Africa—a wonderful moment. I would like also to pay great tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, who was indeed a crucial part of the construction of a democratic South Africa.
One other thing which is important is that one of the very closest friends that Nelson Mandela had was the famous white South African, Helen Suzman. I mention her because he was extremely close to her and because some of us remember two things. First, there was never a month that passed in which she did not visit Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, against all the opposition that the Administration of white South Africa could produce. Secondly, and at least as importantly, we should remember on this occasion that from 1961 to 1974—13 bitter years—Helen Suzman was the only opponent in that Parliament of every aspect of apartheid. That meant that she was spurned, abused and, in some cases, threatened. Yet, day after day, her courage did not fail and she matched that of her dear friend and much beloved leader, Nelson Mandela. So on this occasion, as we celebrate that great man, I hope that we will celebrate also those men and women of all races who had the courage and strength to support him in what he did and who will be, in many ways, part of his lasting memorial.
My Lords, I wish to add a few words of tribute as one who lived in South Africa for 28 years of the 40-year apartheid regime and one who had the good fortune of getting to know Nelson Mandela, known to us all as Madiba, over many occasions. I shall remember him for his charming and engaging smile, his empathy and humility, his magnanimity, his vast self-confidence and pragmatic approach to life as well as, most importantly, his forgiveness and mantra of inclusivity.
There is no doubt that Madiba will be remembered as one of the most important and distinguished politicians of the past century. He will be remembered as a universal icon for his lack of bitterness, after 27 years of incarceration, and for his incredible negotiating skills in achieving peace and reconciliation in a country where most of us believed that civil war would be inevitable. One of the most remarkable achievements in South Africa was for him to persuade the Afrikaners to agree to a peaceful settlement. It is well known that in his last five years in prison, he had no fewer than 70 secret meetings with Kobie Coetsee, the Minister of Justice, and Niel Barnard, the national intelligence chief, to explore the possibility of a political accommodation between blacks and whites.
After his release, his agile negotiations on the national anthem and his support for Francois Pienaar ahead of the Rugby World Cup changed the minds of everyone in South Africa, both black and white, and created unity in what was, no doubt, the most racially divided country in the world. His death has further inspired the youth and forces for positive change in South Africa to achieve the rainbow nation and follow his legacy.
My Lords, I was privileged to meet Nelson Mandela on several occasions. On each occasion, I was inspired by him and marvelled at his strength and courage. I am also proud to report that he poured me a cup of tea at his home in Soweto, soon after his release; indeed, I can boast that I have been hugged by him.
From the 1960s until the end of the 1980s, in the anti-apartheid movement we struggled with the idea that apartheid could be overcome peacefully, but we knew that it would eventually end as a political system, leaving in its wake the misery and suffering that it had created. We watched from afar those barricades of burning tyres and the street battles fought in the townships by unarmed youngsters against a well armed and brutal police force set upon destroying black opposition. In desperation, Nelson Mandela advocated and engaged in the armed resistance in the early 1960s, but it was he who insisted upon peace and reconciliation when the white minority eased its grip on power 30 years later.
Like others here today, I joined the anti-apartheid movement in the 1960s and can confirm that that wonderful solidarity movement, through every form of persuasion—from letters to newspapers, mass picketing and demonstrations to rugby and cricket pitch invasions—was able to play a part in shifting public opinion and in exposing the apartheid regime as an international pariah. It is, indeed, regrettable that the anti-apartheid movement did not enjoy the support of the Government or the Prime Minister of the day. However, I believe that the world is a better place because of the solidarity that was shown in those dark days, with South Africans seeking justice and freedom. Nelson Mandela publicly emphasised the contribution made by those efforts in the United Kingdom to isolate the apartheid state.
Now we mourn the man who achieved so much, who challenged the might of white minority apartheid and who forged a new rainbow nation after 27 years in prison. In the last few days we have realised how much he meant to us and how much respect and affection he has earned across the world. He was loved and he will be missed, not least by his beloved wife, Graca Machel. I can only imagine her great sadness at her loss. It was she who gave him love, trust and real happiness. Nelson famously said that Graca made him “bloom like a flower”; we know that she will be feeling deeply her loss at this time.
Other noble Lords have mentioned Nelson Mandela’s visit as the first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa to speak to the joint Houses of Parliament in 1996. He said:
“We are in the Houses in which Harold Macmillan worked: he who spoke in our own Houses of Parliament in Cape Town in 1960, shortly before the infamous Sharpeville Massacre, and warned a stubborn and race-blinded white oligarchy in our country that,
‘the wind of change is blowing through the continent’;
he to whom a South African cartoonist paid tribute by having him recite other Shakespearean words,
‘Oh, pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!’”.
Then he said:
“We have come as friends to all the people of the native land of the Archbishop Trevor Huddleston”—
a great friend and comrade to Madiba—
“who in his gentle compassion for the victim, resolved to give no quarter to any butcher”.
He went on to emphasise the nature of the relationship between South Africa and Britain, which was,
“not one between poor citizens on the one hand and good patricians on the other, but one underwritten by our common humanity and our human capacity to touch one another’s hearts across the oceans”.
No one could have articulated the great cause of liberty and solidarity better; and no one did.
My Lords, I returned today from India, having attended the UK-India Round Table. We started our meeting on 6 December with two minutes’ silence for Nelson Mandela. In fact, India has declared state mourning for five days. We could not even consume alcohol at the meeting.
I was born and brought up in India and married my South African wife a year after Mandela was freed in 1990. When I first visited the Free State she came from, my family there told me, “If you had come just a few months earlier, no Indian was allowed to spend the night in the Free State”. An Indian whose car broke down on the way from Johannesburg to Durban would report to the police and invariably would have to spend the night in jail. Things have changed, thanks to Nelson Mandela and President F W de Klerk.
One individual who has not been mentioned in these amazing tributes is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is the one who has spoken about the word “ubuntu”, which anyone who has been to South Africa knows about. The person who personified ubuntu was Nelson Mandela himself. As he said, ubuntu is about not enriching oneself but putting back into the community with human kindness. We can see that in his lack of bitterness, his ability to forgive and that saying of his:
“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”.
What about Mahatma Gandhi? Nelson Mandela was a huge admirer of Gandhi. In fact, he said:
“India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen”.
He also said:
“Both Gandhi and I suffered colonial oppression, and both of us mobilized our respective peoples against governments that violated our freedoms”.
Is it not amazing that these two men had difficulties with our two great Prime Ministers—Mahatma Gandhi with Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela with Lady Thatcher?
The noble Lord, Lord St John, mentioned the great rugby victory. In prison on Robben Island, Mandela would often quote the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, and its last lines:
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”.
Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous saying applies better to no one else—ever, ever—than Nelson Mandela. I will paraphrase it: “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits form your character and your character determines your destiny”. Mandela has been an inspiration not just to his country, the world or this generation but for ever more.
My Lords, today we have heard about Mandela the great world leader and Mandela the statesman. I take the opportunity to share my experience of Mandela the ordinary man, whom I had the privilege of meeting on four separate occasions.
On the first occasion, I was in my office and the telephone rang. It was the leader of the Labour Party, the late John Smith. He said, “Can you come to the office? There is someone here I would like you to meet”. I walked in, Mandela was sitting there and I did a double-take. The conversation developed around the question of how we could shape a political party on the basis of equity of all the constituents—the people who matter. At that time, my party was debating one person’s shortlist and how we could bring more women within the context of our party’s leadership. John Smith turned to Mandela and said, “Nelson, our research tells us that within the ANC constitution there is equity. But we also researched your office and we note that there is a preponderance of women against men in the presidential secretariat. How did you cope with all that?” Nelson said: “It was worse than being in Robben Island”.
My second experience was when I led a delegation on behalf of my union to South Africa. Naturally, we went to Johannesburg and it was all set up for me to meet Mandela. I met him on time and he signed a copy of his autobiography, The Long Walk To Freedom. After about 20 minutes or half an hour, he said, “I am very sorry but I must curtail this discussion, interesting as it is, because I have to get down to Cape Town. I have a very important statement to make to Parliament”. We said our goodbyes. I noted on the evening news that it was the day that he advised Parliament that the relationship with Winnie had come to an end and she would play no further official role within the spheres of government.
My last meeting was as a member of the receiving delegation at Brixton. I was standing in the line. He came up to me and said, “You are the man who nearly made me miss my plane”. He did not miss his plane, but the world will certainly miss him.
My Lords, we have had remarkable tributes, very much like the man himself. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has been waiting to contribute for some time and has graciously given way to other Peers. I feel that the mood of the House is to wish to hear from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and then perhaps to move on to the Orders of the Day.
My Lords, I thank the House for tolerating one last speech. As a child of the 1960s, I was much influenced by the events in South Africa, events that struck me at such a tender age as being pivotal to my upbringing. Apartheid robbed people, both black and white, of their humanity, because it damaged the souls of those who inflicted it on others as much as it damaged those men and women who suffered from it. It was extraordinary that although many people feared that South Africa would be robbed of its humanity for all time, apartheid did not rob Nelson Mandela—Madiba—of his humanity. Throughout all the stress, the strain and the pressure of those years, he remained quintessentially human, kind and loving.
That love spread right across the world and allowed young people like me to think that it was possible to join the legal profession, possible to become part of the rule of law and possible to facilitate change. That change was fundamental not only to South Africa but to our country, the United Kingdom. How many people in the 1960s would have thought that one day we would have a black, female Attorney-General? But we did, because our humanity has changed and Nelson Mandela helped us to make that change.
We have also benefited from the jurists who came from South Africa to help us here, not just my noble friend Lord Joffe, but also the noble and learned Lords, Lord Scott of Foscote and Lord Steyn, whom I see on the Bench. Those eminent South African jurists ran from South Africa and from apartheid, but they enriched our humanity by enriching our jurisprudence. I give thanks to South Africa for them, and I give thanks for the life of Nelson Mandela. To those who loved him he was Madiba, and all those who knew him were among that number.
One of the most special things about him was that he did not differentiate between men and women, and from my experience he loved women very much. I am not at all surprised that he showed the good judgment to surround himself with women at all times, to give him counsel, to add to his wisdom, to enrich his life and to make sure that he kept on the straight and narrow path. I join my voice with all those who say that we not only greatly enjoyed his presence but deeply loved and appreciated what he did for his country and what he did for each of us.