Yesterday I joined parliamentary members in expressing sadness over the passing of the former South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Nelson. I gave this condolence speech:
Richard Stengel, who worked with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography, told the story of when he was out walking one morning in the Transkei with Mr Mandela and they spoke about when he would be joining his ancestors. Mandela said:
Men come and go. I have come and I will go when my time comes.
He had an extraordinary life. The first time he shook the hand of a white man was when he went off to boarding school. He was born into a relatively privileged family by black South African standards. He grew to stand six foot two and he had a strong education. Nonetheless, when he was a young man in Johannesburg people spat on him in buses, shopkeepers turned him away and whites treated him as if he could not read or write. He thought to himself that, if that was how he was treated, how must it be for so many other black South Africans?
He was tried for his revolutionary activities for the ANC and sentenced. In the sentencing hearings, he spoke for four hours, finishing with the final statement:
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.