News National A towering figure: Former PMs praise Mandela
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A towering figure: Former PMs praise Mandela

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Former Australian Prime Ministers on both sides of politics have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, acknowledging the South African leader as one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century.

Labor’s Bob Hawke, who as Prime Minister welcomed Mandela to Parliament House in 1990, said his long campaign and self-sacrifice for political freedom in South Africa was unparalleled.

“He was the face of the symbol of a minority white government’s oppression of black South Africans and during his 27 years of incarceration, he never lost sight of his life’s ambition for his country,” Mr Hawke said.  “He will forever more be known as the Father of Democracy in South Africa.”

Mr Hawke said Mandela travelled to Canberra in 1990 to thank Australia “for the part we played in bringing about his release and the enormous reform in South Africa which ultimately resulted in President de Klerk dismantling apartheid.”

“Upon his inauguration as President in 1994, at which I was present, he devoted himself to healing a nation that had suffered from centuries of racial discrimination and oppression,” Mr Hawke said, adding: “Nelson Mandela was one of the most remarkable leaders I have ever met and truly embodied the ideal of the brotherhood of man.”

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Photo: Supplied

Mr Hawke’s successor as PM, Paul Keating, remembered Mandela as “a font of kindness, replete with universal understandings, in a harsh and racially divided country”.

“He brought unity and peace to South Africa through his own goodness,” Mr Keating said. “(He) became a beacon not only to Southern Africa but to the whole world.”

Long-serving Liberal PM, John Howard, called Mandela “one of the great world figures of the past fifty years”.

“He reminded us that, whatever the odds, persistence and endurance ultimately can win through,” Mr Howard said.

His capacity to forgive those who had imprisoned him for so long was, arguably, the most important quality of his leadership of South Africa, Mr Howard said. It showed a remarkable generosity of spirit. 

“He set a great example to the people of South Africa,” Mr Howard said. “(They) can best honour his legacy by working to ensure that the new South Africa he strove so hard to create is preserved and strengthened.”

Malcolm Fraser said Mandela was a man without compare, calling him one of the great men of the last century.

“I don’t know anyone who can stand beside him,” said Mr Fraser. “He was by far the best person I have ever met.”

Mr Fraser said it was Mr Fraser’s forgiveness for those who imprisoned him for 27 years that held South Africa together.

Recalling his first meeting with Mandela, Mr Fraser said his first question was about cricket.

“His first remark to me was, after hello … ‘Mr Fraser, is Don Bradman still alive?'”

Mr Fraser later gave him a bat signed by Bradman “in recognition of a great unfinished innings”.

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