Nick Clegg’s Commons tribute to Mandela: “let us honour his memory by ensuring that the hope he gave lives on”

clegg on leveson 2Nick Clegg offered his tribute on behalf of the Lib Dems today to Nelson Mandela’s immense contribution to leading South Africa away from apartheid and towards democracy. Here’s what he had to say:

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg):
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.

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8 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Dec '13 - 9:39pm

    A mature tribute.

  • Worthy Words.

  • pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain)

    Yesterday, in parliament, everybody was keen to mention Peter Hain, but the real heroes in the Hain family were his parents Water and Ad.
    Read this from a Guardian piece in 2007;-

    When they describe the South Africa of the 1950s and 60s now, it sounds like Mars. Prisoners taken to the jail in Pretoria, where the Hains lived, could be sold to farmers as cheap labour; a black servant not carrying his pass papers could be arrested for stepping outside his employer’s front garden; when Walter was banned, two burly special branch officers had to serve Adelaine with an addendum to her banning order permitting her to talk to her husband – people who were banned were not supposed to communicate. The system was as mad as it was repressive; perhaps repressive because it was inherently mad.

    After a brief period in Britain in the mid-50s, they returned to Pretoria and joined the Liberal party – the only non-race-based political grouping – and, while Walter was working, Adelaine became, in effect, an unpaid political organiser, getting legal representation for black people who had been arrested, illegally entering the black townships to visit party members, and later, when the numbers of activists arrested was rising, ferrying food parcels to prisoners’ families. She also attended the trial of Nelson Mandela and his co-defendants in Pretoria in 1963-64, and was sometimes their sole supporter in the whites-only gallery. It was a decade of modest heroism.

    Better still read the full Guardian piece here –
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2007/feb/15/southafrica.world

  • Walter and Ad

  • jedibeeftrix 10th Dec '13 - 8:34am

    “let us honour his memory by ensuring that the hope he gave lives on”

    quite, what I hope will not happen, and what my south african friends fear, is that once the fine words of the endless mandela eulogies fade into silence so will his dream of a rainbow society.

    two years from now, maybe three or four, will we start to see gentle activism for greater ‘equality’ in society, and in the months and years that follow will that morph into a sense of entitlement that justifies redistribution of other peoples land and wealth?

    i would hate to see another Zimbabwe, and know people for whom the prospect is a real fear.

  • Fred Carver 11th Dec '13 - 3:07pm

    That’s a very naive comment about Sri Lanka. The TRC is a victim-led justice model, how could its emulation by a perpetrator-led regime be anything but disastrous?

  • jedibeeftrix 10th Dec ’13 – 8:34am

    Your comment sounds remarkably like the old ‘kith and kin’ nonsense that apologists for apartheid used to repeat ad nauseum.
    Perhaps your ‘friends in South Africa’ are quite different in outlook from my friends in South Africa.
    My friends live in the 21st Century.
    You seem to have a problem with “redistribution of other peoples land and wealth” – I regard it as a fundamental of Liberal policies. That is why we sing – “Why should we be beggars – with the ballot in our hand ?”

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