Tributes for Madiba from Di Johnstone

Nelson Mandela was truly great man. He was a powerful and inspiring figure during the terrible years of apartheid, uniting people across the political spectrum, across all backgrounds and across the world to believe in the possible – that change could come and would come in South Africa – that there must and could be an end to apartheid - and that a people’s movement - fighting for justice and simple humanity - could bring a just, democratic and a non-racial South Africa.

When I was posted as a young diplomat at the Australian Embassy in South Africa in the early 1970’s, that seemed a very dim prospect. Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robben Island for the term of his natural life. The oppressive white government, backed by massive and overwhelming security forces, brutally enforced appalling racism and denied black South Africans the most fundamental human rights. At that time, the white government was trumpeting that its regime, and apartheid, would last for 1000 years. But even locked away in that terrible, bleak prison, with his image and words banned from the public sphere in South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s wisdom, his vision of a more humane society and his example of unyielding resistance in the face of enormous odds, inspired all those who fought for the great idea - a just, democratic and non-racial South Africa. That vision - and his personal courage - kept hope alive.

When I returned to South Africa in 1994 as a UN observer at elections that brought majority rule to South Africa, it was also to see the miracle of Nelson Mandela being elected as the first black president of a democratic, united South Africa. It was a time of so many high hopes and aspirations for the future. Nelson Mandela, more than anyone, carried these hopes and made their realization possible. Without him, a peaceful transition in South Africa would been very difficult and potentially impossible.

But when Nelson Mandela spoke it was not just to South Africans. It was to the whole world. He reminded us all that we can and should fight for a better world. That we should have a vision of a better future. That, like him, we should not give up. He spoke with both enormous authority and great humility. He changed South Africa. And he left this world a better place for us all. We will mourn his loss as a very great loss to all humanity. His vision and his legacy will continue to inspire us.