Tribute to His Excellency, Former President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Architect of the Free and Democratic South Africa3067 16 Jan, 2014
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members it with a sense of great honour and privilege that I rise to move the motion standing in my name calling on the National Assembly, and indeed our whole nation to, quote:
“Formally offer our profound condolences to the entire Mandela family and to the Government and people of South Africa while at the same time acknowledging the precious heritage which this man of exceptional courage and wisdom bequeathed to all humanity.”
I am extremely pleased to report to this House and Nation that this motion, although it stands in my name, is a consensus motion drafted by the various sides in this House working together cooperatively in a common purpose.
The whole world took note and paused a while on the passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela on 5th December, 2013. In these days of widespread satellite TV many of us in this Assembly and many Guyanese would have been aware, caught some glimpse, of the many events and the multitude of discussions in countries around the world, and here in Guyana too, which extended from the announcement of his passing until the interment of his mortal remains on 15th December, all acknowledging and paying tribute to this noble man. Our President, His Excellency Mr. Donald Ramotar, as soon as a programmed had been confirmed, quickly made hurried arrangements to travel directly to Johannesburg, South Africa, to represent Guyana at the Memorial Service on 10th December. It would be recalled, Mr. Speaker, that when we met on 12th December you quite appropriately led this House in showing our respect, in the traditional minute of silence, on the passing of a great soul.
Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members Mandela’s was an extraordinary life worthy of all the adulation that flowed from all parts of the world. His was a life that started unnoticed, unheralded, in Qunu and when it ended at Qunu, as the BBC Announcer stated, there was all the panoply of the South African State in attendance. For many people within and without South Africa he was a messiah of our time even though Mandela is reported as saying, and I quote:
“I was not a messiah but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”
Whilst it is true we are born at a particular time and place with its peculiar history, contentions and inherent constraints, and this was particularly so in the case of Mandela – born in South Africa in 1918 – he earned the world’s tribute in the way he met and the way he created many of the extraordinary circumstances of which he spoke. Mandela’s life and his achievements had significance for people across much of the whole world as they were played out against the background of a period of world history which began some 400 years before his birth. A time when Europe, filled with a spirit of adventure exploration and discovery linked with growing knowledge about and mastery of material things, began imposing its sway over most of the world. Whilst the various nations of Europe became engaged in bloody wars amongst themselves in their rivalry, establishing themselves in colonies and as overlords in various lands, they had no question about the assumption that Europeans were heads and shoulders above other races and put black Africans at the bottom of the picking order.
According to history books the Portuguese first sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1487, but it was not until 1652 that the Dutch settlement began dispossessing the African tribes of their land. The English began taking control in 1795, not without resistance from the boers. And the English, when it suited their purpose, brought thousands of Indians and some Chinese to South Africa who along with persons of mixed ancestry were designated coloured and placed between the whites at the top and the blacks at the bottom. That was the world into which Mandela was born in Qunu, in the quite countryside far from the growing storm of non-Europeans struggling to throw off the yoke of colonialism, of non-whites struggling to end the domination of whites, and of the working class people in Europe and in the colonies struggling for a bigger share of the goods and services being produced.
Mahatma Ghandi who had lived in South Africa some 20 years and who started his struggles against racial discrimination there was already back in India and well into the battle for Indian independence. Indian independence ushered in the period of former colonies winning independence by constitutional methods or by war.
The First World War was in progress at the birth of Mandela and the first socialist state was being established following the Russian Revolution. By the time of Mandela’s early years, South Africa differed from other colonies in an important way. In most colonies the proportion of Europeans descendants tended to be either a large majority, as in North America and Australia, where the native population was very small or the white colonist were a small minority as in India and the Caribbean. No doubt it was this particular situation that was to lead to much of the difficulties in South Africa. With European descendant population in South Africa about 20% it was a country of colonisers and colonised living within one boundary, a developed European country and an African colony within the same state. Disparities would be much more pointed in South Africa; political evolution and change would be much more difficult.
In the special commemorative edition of Time Magazine entitled Nelson Mandela, a Hero’s Journey, 1918 to 2013, they listed persons whose lives influenced Mandela. These included Mahatma Ghandi, Joe Lou, Winston Churchill - and they say it may be surprising but Mandela admired Churchill for his courage, his spirit of never giving up. Also, he admired Kwame Nkrumah, Martin Luther King Jr., Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Nasser, Mao Tse Tung, Ahmed Ben Bella and Fidel Castro – a wide list of persons who were activists in resisting oppression and making a change for the better.
The activist life for which Mandela was destined was not going to be an easy one, but a life that he would consciously undertake nonetheless and endure at great personal cost, very much so for a man who was inclined to carry himself regally, who was interested in sport, who took up ballroom dancing, who performed in a drama society and gave bible classes. These, one may think, were the actions of one inclined to a cultured good life and to seek improvements within the system. However, at about 23 years old he was put on his faithful path in having to leave Four Care University without a degree following his suspension for being involved in a student representative council boycott against the quality of food. Returning to his native area in December 1940, Mandela fled to Johannesburg in April 1941 to escape a traditional arranged marriage.
My first awareness of South Africa goes back to the end of the 1940s, when I was maybe about five or six years old, when night after night, chapter after chapter, my mother read to my grandparents by lantern lights, that sad book, “Cry, The Beloved Country” – about Johannesburg in the 1940s, a place of great hopes and dreams, but also of great pain and poignancy, where so many things were turning out wrong. The protagonist of that book himself, like Mandela, a runaway to Johannesburg, ends up being executed for the murder of a white man who it so happen was renowned for his interest in social problems and for his efforts to improve the welfare of the Non-European sections the community.
The special commemorative edition of Times previously referred to on it last page reproduces a quotation from Mandela date 20th April, 1964, when he was 46 years old, which sums up Mandela.
“During my life time 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 idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an idea which I hope to live for and to achieve, but if needs be, it is an idea for which I am prepared to die.”
The above quotation which I think is the essence of the historical Mandela comes from his four hours long speech at his Rivonia Trial. It was modelled after Fidel Castro’s “History will absolve me” speech.
At the end of the trial Mandela was sentence to life imprisonment. Those might have been just beautiful words put together likely to win sympathy and a light sentence, but when the time came, it would be sensed that he, Mandela, meant those words and in by living by them, when he was freed, he earned his acclaimed of Father of the Nation of South Africa and of a great being, in being true to those words.
It is said that one’s beliefs might be stronger and sounder when he would have struggled to get there so it might have been with Mandela. We may say that Johannesburg was alive and bubbling, when Mandela arrived in 1941,with many different peoples; with many different views, native blacks of various tribes, whites - English, Dutch and Jews, coloured immigrants – Indians, communists and non-communists, all with their own interest and views as to whether and how South Africa was to be transformed.
As noted by a number of reviewers, and as Mandela does not hide in his autobiography, although he was personally friendly with many non-blacks, whites, Indians, Jews and communist, he initially supported the view that black Africans should be independent and acting alone in their struggle for political self-determination.
Mandela was also uneasy about communist participating and about communism. Perhaps it was the new apartheid legislation after the 1948 election and the implementation of that legislation that created the condition for the African National Congress (ANC) and Mandela to work with and welcome to the register of the ANC all who would fight apartheid.
Mandela had had friends in the ANC from his late teens and early 20s at the University of Fort Hare, but it is said that he did not then joined the ANC. His life in the ANC would have begun with an introduction to Walter Sisulu, soon after he arrived in Johannesburg in 1941. His role in the leadership would have been cemented with his work in the formation of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) - the Youth League of the ANC, on Easter Sunday 1944.
When Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in June, 1964, having been found guilty of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the Government, he had been serving already for 20 years at the highest levels of the ANC. The ANC had been resisting calls to accept violence as one of the means to confront the apartheid regime. Already in 1955, after the demolition of the Sophia Town suburb, Mandela had come to the opinion that the ANC “Had no alternative to arms and violent resistance.” It was not until 1961 that he could persuade the ANC leadership to establish an armed wing. This armed wing was to focus on sabotage, creating maximum publicity, but minimal collateral personal injuries.
Thus, in 1961, Mandela co-founded Spear of the Nation: MK, the armed wing of the ANC. Mandela, thus, had been travelling through South Africa disguised and organising cells for the ANC and had been abroad illegally, bringing the attention of the world to the injustices of apartheid, which had been imposed in South Africa, seeking support connecting with Africans, other revolutionary people, persons in groups and undergoing some military training.
It may be argued that paradoxically, as some do, that it was his imprisonment which made Mandela, even saved Mandela, taking him into the safety of the prison and off the streets where he would have likely been killed, like a number of other activists.
Also, when sentenced to life at 46 years old, he had already gained enough stature within the ANC, within South Africa and across the world to ensure that his life sentencing and going into prison attracted great attention and posed the question of what was to be the way out for black Africans and all South Africa.
Mrs. Winnie Mandela is rightly credited for Mandela not being forgotten in prison. Mandela might well have been eclipsed by younger impatient groups that were springing up; individual black activists like Stephen Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement.
Mandela did not languish or allow himself languish in jail, he put to good use whatever personal time he had in prison, continuing his studies for the LLB Degree and studying his LAM and Afrikaans, so as to better understand and possibly build mutual respect with his oppressors and jailers.
It has been argued and it does seem so that the ceremonies and the celebrations organised in South Africa, the United Kingdom and elsewhere to mark his 60th and 70th birthday, in 1978 and more so in 1988, established him as the person with whom the white apartheid regime would have to and could bargain, as violence rose in South Africa.
On being set free in 1990, and as the first democratically elected President in 1994, and for the rest of his life, Mandela delivered on the declaration that he had made since 1964; that he cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
Throughout his life, Mandela worked with allies and adversaries, who themselves have no small place in the history of South Africa through the 20th century. Time would allow me may be only to mention just one, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the outspoken first black Anglican Bishop of South Africa – a man with his own great standing.
With Nelson Mandela’s release, there was still the enormous challenge for South Africans to somehow put the 300 years of white domination and the inhumane cruelties of the last 40 plus years of apartheid behind them.
What could be a mechanism to bring about reconciliation and healing and turn to a new page? As we know the mechanism was the Truth Commission, chaired by Bishop Tutu. In parallel, Mandela reached out to those who would have been uneasy in the new South Africa. He reached out to the white donning the uniforms of the Spring Box Rugby Team, which had been somewhat of an emblem of white South Africa and despised by blacks. As Xhosa, he reached out to the Zulus, donning the traditional wear of the Zulu warriors and he re-established tides with his tribe, receiving the traditional tribal blessings.
He was a man challenged to span many worlds and he spent his life doing so, putting and keeping his faith in the common human feelings of all of us humans.
Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members, with the example set by Mandela and his cherish ideas survived, nothing is ever set in stone and every generation has to make its own mark on history. I had the privilege of visiting South Africa for the first in May, 2012 to represent Guyana at an African Diaspora Conference. One could have sensed among the blacks the questioning about the pace of change; maybe a disappointment that change was not happening fast enough. There was also “The Spear” incidence; an undignified painting of President Zuma by a white artist. These seemed to indicate that whites were still disrespectful of blacks. We became aware too of the killing of some 30 miners by the South African Police, I think it was in August of that same year, 2012. That posed question of what had changed in South Africa.
The establishment of equal circumstances and easy relations between all the peoples of South Africa, and I daresay the peoples of the world, would still require a number of generations. Evidence of sufficient pace is required to keep the faith of the previously oppressed on the one hand and on the other hand the previous oppressors and their descendants are concerned whether they will be treated justly.
Our hope must be that in the death of Mandela and in the recalling of his life and the recommitment to his ideas that this may provide some more time, perhaps another 10 years or so, to keep the faith. We must hope that by that time it would be more evident that change has come and that there would be enough change for the satisfaction and comfort of all South Africans.
There are many similarities in the life of Mandela to our own journey from colony to nationhood; many similarities, but nothing identical in the challenges and the tasks that we too face.
The life story of Nelson Mandela and South Africa provides both an example and a challenge to us in Guyana, to overcome the problems of our own history and the seeming impasse in which we may have found ourselves over the last 55 or so years.
Mr. Speaker, I disclosed at the beginning that this was a consensus motion. I hope that as we consider Mandela, his life, the circumstances in South Africa, which he south to change and did change greatly, that we too would think that change is possible in our time, here in our country and would work towards it. It therefore gives me added pleasure to have brought this consensus motion and I now formally move that this motion be approved by this House. [Applause]
Mr. Hinds (replying): Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members, it is for me to extend thanks and appreciation to all those who spoke on all sides. We did have a number of different views put to us and that can only be good. Enough has been said, there is much to reflect, let us reflect and I join my Colleague, who last spoke, in hoping that this may somehow open the door for us to find a new way forward and turn the leave of our own past 50 years. I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to put the question.
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