... the Mandela and Sisulu families, hon members and esteemed guests, it was indeed an honour to serve as a Member of Parliament under the leadership of former President Nelson Mandela when he became the first democratic President of the new South Africa in 1994. I concur with all the wonderful tributes and accolades that were given to him this afternoon. I want to focus, however, on some of his ideals and values I hope and pray that South Africans, particularly political leaders, will not lose sight of.
What stands out the most for me of those values was the capacity that he had to forgive. After he was released from prison together with other political prisoners, many expected revenge, confrontation, and in some areas, a bloodbath. Because he was a great leader, he chose to negotiate a peaceful settlement with his former oppressors.
As progress was made, one of the most prominent leaders of both the ANC and the SACP, Chris Hani, was assassinated. Fear and uncertainty filled the air. This great man, who had a vision for a peaceful, prosperous and united nation, stepped forward and called for calm, while some of his comrades were questioning the sincerity and commitment of the former apartheid government to a peaceful settlement. Violent confrontation was averted because of the intervention of this great man we are honouring today.
I sincerely believe that the capacity that uTata Mandela had to forgive was given to him by God Almighty in answer to the prayers of his people, who wanted to see a peaceful settlement in the country. Let us not forget that when some people were talking about war in the country, a war that even members of the international community expected would break out, churches in South Africa and in other parts of the world were praying for peace. That is why the peaceful elections of 1994 were called a miracle. At the centre of all this, when we were praying, was this man of peace called Nelson Mandela. That is why it is proper for us to say today: Thank you, Lord, for giving us Madiba.
To his critics, I must admit that on many occasions Mr Mandela correctly said that he was not a saint. He made mistakes, just as we all make mistakes. I did not always agree with him, but that did not change the fact that he was a great man, a great unifier, a bridge builder that all South Africans should honour and pay their respects to, and learn from.
UTata Mandela had one distinct characteristic that separated him from all the other presidents we have had so far. This was his respect and special way of dealing with leaders of opposition parties in Parliament. Whenever he hosted visiting heads of state and other important dignitaries, he would introduce us individually to his guests, mentioning us all, each by name. On a number of occasions, he would call leaders of opposition parties in Parliament to ask for their opinions. He would tell us how much he valued our opinions and contributions. He had a unique way of making one feel valuable and special.
I will always appreciate his commitment to forgiveness, his compassion, and his commitment to reconciliation, peace and nation-building. Many township people, who did not like rugby because it was associated with an oppressive regime, changed their attitudes the day they saw Madiba wearing the Springbok jersey on 24 June 1995, when the Springboks played against the All Blacks. The All Blacks coach, Laurie Mains, is reported to have said:
The entire stadium was electrified at the sight of South Africa's first black President sporting a garment that was indelibly associated with the apartheid regime.
Today, many black people wear the Springbok jersey with pride because they saw their hero, Mr Mandela, wearing it the day the Springboks became the 1995 Rugby World Champions. Mr Mandela influenced us all in many ways. That is why it is befitting for all of us today to be grateful to have been blessed with a leader of the stature of Mr Mandela. He showed the world that it is possible to forgive, regardless of how you were humiliated. It is possible to forgive, regardless of how deep the pain is. It is possible to hold hands with your former oppressor and enemy, reconcile with him, and move forward in unity for the sake of the nation.
The best way to honour his legacy, as South Africans, is never to lose these Bible-based values: love, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, respect, unity and nation-building. He embraced them all. God bless, heal and comfort the Mandela family. God bless South Africa. Thank you. [Applause.]