Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:38): Last Friday, the world learned that Nelson Mandela had died at 95. Mandela was a towering figure of the 21st century. He transformed a resistance movement into a force for national liberation and was a leader in the true sense of the word. He served over 27 years in Robben Island prison for trying to effect multiracial political change in South Africa. Over those long years of incarceration, he became known as the father of the nation, yet his children grew up without their father. Despite a prison term that would have broken most men, Nelson Mandela did not give up on his dream. He brought to an end white minority rule in South Africa by becoming the first black, democratically elected president in 1994. When he stood in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria 19 years ago to be sworn in, he embodied the hope of the nation.
Apartheid had been defeated, but his greatest gift to South Africa was to ensure that the sins of apartheid were dealt with through truth and reconciliation and not revenge. A wave of unforeseen optimism spread across the country and across the world. Mandela served in office for five years, but the international acclaim for his activism resonated for much longer than that. He has received more than 250 honours throughout his life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, shared with FW de Klerk. As some have pointed out since his passing, Mandela was not a saint. He was a human and he had his flaws. That said, South Africa still faces many challenges but we cannot deny that it is a better place because of him.
I had the great honour of meeting Nelson Mandela briefly. It was 1990, just months after he had been released from prison. He came to Australia to thank our government and the community organisations that had supported the anti-apartheid movement throughout its years of struggle. I had been very active in the group on the south coast. In those years the anti-apartheid cause was not always bipartisan. The sanctions movement was very controversial. There existed apologists who gained comfort at high levels throughout the country. I am pleased to say that the south coast branch was a very strong movement that gained support, financial, moral and otherwise, from trade unions, a good friend and colleague Terry Fox and the former member for Throsby, Colin Hollis. It was a great honour to meet a great man, however brief the encounter was. I am very sad, as I am sure all members of this place are, to learn of his passing. The world is a better place for the time he spent with us. Vale, Nelson Mandela.