As the world comes to terms with the loss of the great Nelson Mandela many stories will emerge of how he touched average people’s lives.
From every corner of the globe people are recalling his attributes; grace, dignity, the ability to forgive his oppressors.
After his release from prison in 1990 my family was lucky enough to be invited to meet him when he toured Australia.
Dad was the Federal Member for the Victorian seat of Maribyrnong from 1983 to 1996 and we were given many opportunities to lunch with leaders from across the globe.
Mandela’s visit coincided with an obligation I had with a team of girls and I couldn’t let them down.
So my sister travelled to the Parliament House lunch with dad and I decided to write Mr Mandela a lengthy note.
In the letter, I explained how much I respected him, tucked it into my copy of his book ‘No Easy Walk To Freedom’ and asked my sister to try her best to deliver it.
The popular hero took the time to read my note from beginning to end and signed my copy of “No Easy Walk to Freedom” with his compliments and best wishes.
It defies belief how someone who was forced to crack stones in prison for 27 years and saw the ugliness of human nature first hand could emerge a beacon of hope, dignity and forgiveness. How someone of his international significance would even bother to read my letter.
Mandela’s visit, eight months after his release from prison, three-and-a-half-years before he was elected South African president, had a ripple effect across our nation.
His experience informed my path in relation to advocating for human rights, equality and diversity.
Not long after his visit, I protested outside the headquarters of a major mining company due to its practices upholding the apartheid regime. Doubt I’ll ever forget the respectful meeting with my father’s political advisors suggesting that wasn’t a good move on my part given my dad’s position in the federal government.
For the record, dad didn’t mind me protesting, he was a huge fan of Mandela and abhorred the apartheid regime.
Today is a very sad day.
Vale Nelson Mandela.