Tributes to Nelson Mandela

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:14 pm on 9th December 2013.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 9:14 pm, 9th December 2013

I am tremendously privileged to pay my own tribute. What I have to say feels inadequate in the light of the gargantuan contributions of some of my right hon. Friends, but it is important to me, on behalf of the people of Chesterfield, to have a few moments to reflect on our admiration for Nelson Mandela, as shown by the books of condolence that have been signed in Chesterfield town hall while we have been speaking. I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and for Neath (Mr Hain) on their speeches, which I found deeply moving and incredibly powerful.

Mandela’s massive contribution to the world was not just, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, as

“a pivotal figure in the history of South Africa”,

but as someone who gave a wider example to humankind of forgiveness, bravery, tolerance and self-sacrifice in pursuit of higher ideals. Other hon. Members have spoken about the role played by this country in the best and the worst of South Africa’s history.

I know how many from Chesterfield were involved in their own way in the British arm of the struggle against apartheid. I remember my mother moving her bank account from Barclays, as many opponents of apartheid did, and the numerous tiny gestures made by so many people, which all maintained the pressure of the world against the idea that South Africa’s way of operating was normal or acceptable. We remember the huge message sent around the world by the 70th birthday concert at Wembley, and we know how important the sporting boycotts, from the D’Oliveira affair to the bans for cricketers who played in South Africa, were for a proud sporting nation such as South Africa. It was therefore so uplifting that Mandela should have recognised the huge role of the Springboks in the psyche of white South Africa. By extending the arm of friendship to, and supporting, the 1995 Springbok team that famously won the rugby world cup, he showed the tremendous gift of forgiveness, which will be his enduring legacy. Long after all those who remember apartheid have gone, his example will shine through the pages of history.

As I reflect on Britain’s role in the history of South Africa, I recall from my childhood my parents’ friends Mike and Jeanette Murphy, who fled from house arrest in apartheid South Africa, where Mike worked as a trade union secretary for the black Transport and General Workers Union, as well as their tales of life under the regime. I well remember Jeanette’s pride in and sorrow for the beautiful country that they had been forced to leave, and that was very powerful for me in my formative years. I also remember the sense of frustration that while so many British people opposed apartheid, our Government provided the regime with a cover of authenticity and defence.

More than anything else, my reflections are on Mandela the icon—the generous hero, whose memory we are so proud to recall today, and whose example will inspire us for many decades to come.