I believe I may be the last of so many, so it is appropriate for me to reflect that today has been a vivid reminder of how the spirit of Nelson Mandela has affected every member of these United Nations; and so it is that New Zealand joins all those who’ve expressed heartfelt condolences to the family of Nelson Mandela, and to Government and People of South Africa, on the passing of one of the world’s greatest statesmen.
South Africa: The world mourns with you.
Perhaps we, here, are all so particularly moved by his passing because Nelson Mandela represented the very embodiment of many of the principles of the United Nations Charter. For much of his life, particularly for those 27 years, Nelson Mandela was the global icon for the fight for equality, freedom and human rights, and the struggle against apartheid and division; all of which had been given new life and new meaning in San Francisco in 1945. And, in his later life, he represented the values of forgiveness and reconciliation, as he led his Rainbow Nation, as its first democratically-elected President.
As my own Prime Minister said of Nelson Mandela’s impact -
“Madiba’s achievements demonstrate what can be attained through forgiveness and reconciliation. His vision for South Africa was one of freedom and equality. It remains an inspiration to the world.”
New Zealand has a close friendship with South Africa, built on the solid foundation of Commonwealth, sporting and personal ties. In 1995, we were honoured to welcome Madiba to New Zealand. Political leaders don’t always please crowds; but I have vivid memories of the enormous cheer that welcomed him to an open-air concert during that visit.
Perhaps New Zealand’s most striking links with South Africa have been on the rugby field. Our two nations will never forget the sight of President Mandela donning the Springbok rugby jersey during the rugby world Cup final in 1995 against New Zealand's All Blacks, and then presenting the trophy to the victorious South African captain. That one act of both triumph and reconciliation – honoured, even by Hollywood – said so much about who Nelson Mandela was, and what he stood for: his capacity to forgive, his commitment to reconciliation, and his ability to lead and inspire against all odds. For all that, Nelson Mandela had a profound impact on my country and its people.
Death has now done as much as it can. It may have removed the physical presence, but his memory will remain with New Zealanders for generations to come.
But it will be all of history, for all of time, that truly remembers his name, his actions, his words, his reconciliation, his leadership and his determination, and his forgiveness; his capacity to forge unity where once there was division; his willingness reach out in friendship and brotherhood to those who’d once been bitter enemies.
That, Mr President, Mr Ambassador, will be the legacy of Madiba. He was, quite simply, a wonderful man.