Minister of Works [Mr. Benn]: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am honoured to be given the opportunity in this honourable House to speak on the contributions of Nelson Mandela, the Former President of South Africa to African liberation and the moral upliftment of Third World peoples in their quest for national self determination and also for the upliftment of ordinary people; people who have found themselves under colonialism, to uplift those people to better lives; lives in which they could be respected. In thinking of Mandela I have to quote just the two last passages from William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus and we know that there was a picture on the life of Mandela which played to the role of Invictus and actually Mandela in Robben Island was always encouraged and uplifted by this poem and he always read it to his fellow prisoners over those many years of imprisonment. I will read the whole poem:
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.”
I think that this speaks particularly to the character that was developed over all those years, from 1918 when Mandela was born in Mvezo to his finding himself as a shepherd boy in Qunu and as he developed himself over the years to become a freedom fighter for the South African People. His book, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, speaks poignantly and plaintively to that development; the personal development of this man who moved from a young African student to become a young lawyer, to become an organiser for people looking for freedom from an apartheid system and then unto the fight, the struggle, the development, the joining with the African National Congress, the joining with the South African Communist Party, the work with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). All these three organisations which come together today to make the ANC that which created the vehicle for the victory of all of the people in South Africa.
Over these years, Mandela, politically, moved from a position where he was considered... I think our friend, the lawyer, Mr. Basil Williams, was actually speaking about the Rivonia Trial. Mandela moved from being considered a Kafir Communist terrorist to today when he is being considered a saint. From a Kafir Communist terrorist to today, from all sides, he is now being considered a saint by all who had examined his history, by seeing the result of his efforts and also there are those of his comrades because it was not Mandela alone which made Mandela the man of the development of the victory in South Africa but there are countless others, some whom others have named and who we can name.
The struggle for liberation in southern Africa has to be viewed in some context. The Hon. Prime Minister did speak about the conquest of Africa, the colonisation and then the annexation by the late 19th century. We are all aware of it – a Berlin conference where it was decided that the European powers would move towards the annexation of Africa and where they would partition the continent and take its resources, not only its harvest of people but also to take its mineral resources and anything that they could produce for the betterment and improvement of life in Europe. It has to be noted that Mandela who was, as was said, came from the Aba Thembu Clan of the Xhosa people came from a people who are noted for a hundred-year war in sudden Africa. The Xhosa people carried out over 100 years in some ten or more different wars; struggles against the colonisation, the intrusion, the theft of their lands and, of course, at some point, I think by 1878, they were defeated. In fact some of the same Xhosa Chieftains were even then – from the 1812/1813 I think there was one called Chief Sandile – who were also impression at Robben Island and the record of deceit, of treachery, of theft, of trying to divide the people in South Africa, in trying to separate the tribes and the clans from each other is one that perhaps hardly finds parallel. There are some parallels of course, in North America among the North American Indians, in South America too, in parts, in India too but the South African record, when it moved onto apartheid was one which was really without parallel in the history of colonialism and domination of peoples because, again, it was based... We couch it in the nice term these days of ‘apartheid’. It was much more than apartheid. It was fascism. It was a fascistic ideology and under any other pretence or circumstance the people would have been whipped out. In fact the scramble for Africa at the time that it did occur and the shape and form which took place in relation to dividing up Africa and some other countries, the East Indies and other countries then, perhaps led onto the great disasters we had in the world, particularly two in Europe of both the First World War and then which led onto the Second World War.
In putting the experience of South Africa and the development of Mandela in context, I want to refer to his book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ in which he talks about his father and I want you to forgive me if I quote extensively from pages 6 and 7.
“When I was not much more than a new-born child my father was involved in a dispute that deprived him of his chieftainship at Mvezo and revealed a strain in his character I believe that he passed onto his son. I maintain that nurture rather than nature is the primary moulder of personality but my father possessed a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness and that I recognise in myself. As a chief – or headman as it was often known among the whites – my father was compelled to account for his stewardship not only to the Thembu king, but to the local magistrate. One day one of my father’s subjects lodged a complaint against him involving an ox that had strayed from its owner. The magistrate accordingly sent a message ordering my father to appear before him. When he received the summons he sent back the following reply: “Andizi, ndisaqula” (I will not come. I am still girding for battle). One did not defy magistrates in those days. Such behaviour would be regarded as the height of insolence and in this case it was.
My father’s response bespoke his belief that the magistrate had no legitimate power over him. When it came to tribal matters he was guided not by the laws of the King of England but by Thembu custom. This defiance was not a fit pique, but a matter of principle. He was asserting his traditional prerogative as a Chief and was challenging the authority of the magistrate.”
Of course, Mandela’s father was charged for insubordination. There was no inquiry. He deposed the father and that ended the Mandela family Chieftainship. When we look at the man Mandela, when we consider these experiences which he writes about we see what the forces, the experiences were that shaped the man. Also, as I mentioned before, the history over all the years of the wars that subdued the eastern cape that led to the first downfall the Xhosa nation and then by 1879 the invasion of Zulu land and I think we all know of the Battle of Isandlwana which the Zulus won, but then they were destroyed later by the British. We all know about, perhaps, Blood River and Rorke’s Drift and all of those places. We know of them but we need somehow to put some of these things in perspective.
Mandela speaks and talks in his book about his efforts about the time the decision was made by the African National Congress to form MK, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation, when he left South Africa to go on journeys to get military and financial help, military training, administrative training, training to develop the struggle and to organise the South African Revolutions. It speaks about going to Ethiopia and meeting with the then Emperor of Ethiopia, Selassie, getting help from Selassie and from other persons, Algeria too, with respect to establishing and fomenting the necessary work which has led today to freedom in South Africa. During this period, as the Prime Minister alluded to, there was conflict, worrying, thinking about whether the course of armed struggle was the correct way to go in response to the attacks of the apartheid system or whether a better course of action would have been to go the submissive non-violent way. We all know that the subsequent history meant that with a Mandela and a Tambo and Sekswale and Peter Magubane in prison, Kathrada and others, that one always had to have the option, the creative force, the energy of young people, the organisation of the mine workers; the organisation of the teachers, the organisation of the students. One only has to have an aggressive posture and that one had to have an aggressive response to the depredations, to the killings which were taking place, which were being carried out by the apartheid system. There are a lot of parallels with our own experience. I do not want to look at it from an adversarial standpoint, but I am fully aware having grown up in it and seen it from my own parents of the efforts being made since in the late 1950s and in the 1960s with respect from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) side and then later from all Guyanese with respect to bringing an end to apartheid, ending the pass laws, ending the acts against the issue of the suppressing of communisms act which was a question under the Rivonia Trial and then later too we have to acknowledge that there was critical support given by the PPP with respect to the passage of Cuban volunteer troops to go to Africa, to Angola, to turn the tide of battle at Cuito Cuanavale. Fidel Castro whom Mandela personally went to thank when he came out of prison... Castro said that the history of Africa will be written as before and after battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
Mr. Speaker: You meant ‘Mandela said’. I think you said ‘Castro’.
Mr. Benn: I said ‘Castro’. Mandela says “A turning point for the liberation of our continent and our people occurred at Cuito Cuanavale and at the battle at the Lobango River” because there were the sons of the Caribbean under encouragement from all of the Caribbean, generally; all of us. I am sorry if some others did not pay attention then, but all of us there and then were aware that the troops were coming and passing through. We were all aware and exhilarated too when Castro came to Guyana somehow and it was all in connection with that and we were all aware. Those who wanted to be aware of the outcome of the battles when the Cubans, the Angolans...
Mr. Speaker: There is some anecdotal evidence that some Guyanese also...
Mr. Benn: Yes...
Mr. Speaker: ...though the records would never show it, also formed part of those battalions.
Mr. Benn: Yes. Also Umkhonto we Sizwe stood at Cuito Cuanavale and at the Lobango River and defeated the South Africans and that is what gave the physical impetus for a change in the system in South Africa. The steadfastness of Mandela and his comrades in prison, their unyielding position with respect to the machinations of the agents of apartheid who tried all of the time to separate them, to buy them off by various means – early release. All those kinds of things were tried but two things, the effect of the defeat in Angola, Mozambique, defeat on the battle field and we have to pay attention too, with respect to all of this.
Many comrades of Mandela fell, many comrades of the Africa National Congress (ANC), the South African party. ------ died along the way. The leaders, students in the field, mine workers, we know of all of the massacres and terrible things that happened. Even internal struggles between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) of Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi but, particularly, we need to remember Chris Hani who was shot and Mandela, when he came out of prison, had to make a particular appeal to all South Africans to say that “our response here at this time is not to go on the path to bloodshed but to go through the democratic deterministic process”, because the killing of Hani was an attempt to derail the success, to derail the progress, to prevent the final victory. Stephen Bantu Biko who was murdered in prison; Ruth First was blown up, I think, in Mozambique, all of the comrades – Joe Slovo, Walter Sisulu and all of those all other people, Govan Mbeki and all of those persons, who worked hard and suffered over the many years to bring a change into the conditions of the South African people and bring a new birth of freedom in Southern Africa.
Mandela spoke too, in his book... and there is a lot that we can quote from or read to. If you read his book Mandela came out to some of us, in terms of his struggle, his suffering and the suffering of his comrades, almost like Christ. Christ, perhaps, was one of the first socialist if not communist. Always when there is great cruelty, when there is the domination of one people over another great souls appear from amongst the people to put forward the case of the people, to lead their struggle, to embrace their difficulties and their suffering and to bring about a change in their circumstances.
Mandela talked about being at his daughter, Zindzi’s wedding after he came out.
“...it seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is a struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.
‘We watched our children growing without our guidance,’ I said at the wedding, ‘and when we did come out [of prison] my children said, “We thought we had a father and one day he’d come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation.”’To be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of.”
As President of South Africa, Mandela introduced some particularly important measures which were designed to give birth to a new democratic, progressive, multicultural, inclusive government and country. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which has been replicated all over the world, from Nicaragua, and even in little communities where there are problems there are Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.
I would not gainsay that perhaps we need to think of it ourselves, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, because the truth, sometimes, is very hard to accept when one is always in a partisan, adversarial role. This being our first day of the sitting of the National Assembly in a new year, if we do not come together to have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least in our hearts, here and now, and in respect of what our country expects of us, we need to consider it. We should have had some bits of New Year’s resolution with respect to the idea of some truth and reconciliation.
He undertook initiatives with respect to the changing of the arrangement with respect to mineral lands, some of which only now being realised in South Africa, with respect to the development of energy for South Africa, with respect to the dismantling of the legacy of apartheid and with respect to the laws, particularly. One thing I need to mention, which I read in the South African’s newspapers, myself, and was encouraged about it... because when I went to D’Urban at the end of 1994, I stood in the dock - I went there for a technical problem - and I saw that there were large cakes, metre by metre, of petroleum wax. I asked the gentleman, whom I was with, what they were for, because it was along all of the wharves, and he told me it was for the making of candles. There was no power up there and it goes to the other countries such as Zimbabwe and also into the country side in South Africa.
In the Sunday newspaper there was a large article where the President of South Africa, Mandela, was talking about linking the hydropower resources and developing new hydropower development for the South African Development Community. There must be something intuitive in this man, in knowing what is critical for the economic and social development for each country. I say, again, it is power. In this modern time, electrical power, as he recognised then, is a significant pillar for the development along with all of the legislative reforms, and so on. The question of the ownership of land, the question of the ownership of mineral resources and access to cheap power for ordinary people were what was important.
Other countries have problems with power too. It is said that 50% of the people in rural India have no power; 70% of all of the people in total Africa have no access to electrical power, but all of these countries, and Mandela then in 1994, have paid attention to the critical issue of power and developing their mineral resources, their coals then and their hydropower and to link and to balance the delivery of energy by way of that hydropower amongst those countries.
Please do forgive me if I digressed on, perhaps, in a backhanded way, when I was suggesting that we needed again to pay attention to the question of hydropower, particularly, here in Guyana at this time.
Today, South Africa has its challenges like many other countries. The struggle has moved from a pretty basic one where there was fighting amongst the people and theft by one side against the other. The struggle has moved to a new plane. The struggle has moved to questions of health, questions of improving lives, questions of equity, questions of whether there is greater inequality between the people, the questions of the building or development of the new black middle class. All of those are new questions.
We are faced with much of the same questions and that is why, as the Hon. Prime Minister did say, the question of... Of course, when Mandela died there were some people who were saying, “We were betrayed by Mandela; we have not got the benefits of the change that we expected”. Maybe some people expected that everybody will have much of the same thing and would have been living it up and all of the difficulties, all of the problems in Soweto and Alexandra, would have been wished away overnight, but there is still work and there is still a struggle to do and to create wealth. As the Hon. Prime Minister, I think, did say, it will take a few generations, as it will take too in our own country, to realise the full and equitable development of our people and of the people too in South Africa.
Some of us in the African diaspora in the Caribbean, in North America have been, perhaps, somewhat disdainful of African history. Maybe we did not learn or know enough of it. Maybe the revelation of the experience of Mandela, of his life, of his lineage, of his people, was something that gives us some reasons to be proud of, in spite of colonialism, in spite of imperialism, in spite of being despised, in spite of self abnegation. In speaking on the life and work of Nelson Mandela, of his comrades, of his supporters, in learning more and more of the struggle, one feels ennobled, one feels a special sense of mission and encouragement with respect to the work that we all have to do, that we are at a special place and time in history when we could have viewed in large measure, and experience, and seen the results of the sacrifices that persons, such as Mandela, have bequeathed to the world in full acknowledgement.
We have experienced Mandela, we have experienced - some of us in full measure - Gandhi, we have experienced Martin Luther King and we frolic on the question of Obama, and so there are more reasons than ever to take courage, to take heart, to pay attention to how we develop a young nation-state, a multicultural ethnic, as Guyana, is along the lines and the struggle with a coherent ideology for a progressive new order as the South Africans with the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party (SACP), and Congress of the South African Trade Union Movement (COSATM).
Someone said, and maybe it was indeed it was Mr. Basil Williams, about icons and I, perhaps, inadvisably use the word saint. I think there is a problem for the socialist, communist, Marxist, those of the socialist international, those who have notions of being progressive, not by opportunistic reason, for developing and for paying attention under the new circumstances where there was a collapse of socialism in Europe and in other places, for the clear development of a new liturgy out of the introspection and the retrospection of the recent events of developing meeting places where we can discuss the way forward so that we do not leave perspective on our social, progressive, economic mission because this mission will always be there.
Mandela in his life’s work, even after he left the presidency of South Africa, he became the sounding board, the adviser for the council of elders for the ANC and also for the entire movement in Africa itself. We perhaps need to use our own church-like and edifices and meeting places to discuss and to create and to examine on this lifelong and generation long mission of uplifting people. In so doing, the inspiration, the sacrifices, the effort of Mandela, of Sisulu, of Mbeki, the elder and also the younger, of Ruth First and Joe Slovo and all of those people, their example, of which we need to learn much more of, and also of the ancestors of these people in Africa and elsewhere, in India, in southern America, will give us great inspiration, will give us energy to take forward, to continue to uplift the burden to do the great work which is needed to uplift ordinary people out of poverty and to bring a new global human order which, I think, we will all accede to and which, I think, Mandela and many like him in southern Africa have worked for and continuing to work for.
With that I support the motion in full measure and encourage all others, without recommendation, to so do.
I thank you. [Applause]