Henry Bellingham joined MPs from all parties in paying tribute to the life and work of former South African President and anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela.
Henry said: “A lot of people have spoken about his magnanimity, his ability to forgive, his dignity and his desire for reconciliation, and I want to just pick up two incidents that are really quite extraordinary. First, he appointed his former jailer, Jannie Roux, who went on to become a prison commissioner, as ambassador to Austria. The other example testifies to his extraordinary ability to forgive: he organised an official lunch for Percy Yutar, who was the official prosecutor in the Rivonia trial and who was calling for his execution during that trial.”
Recalling his own meeting with Nelson Mandela, Henry said: “I will never forget three things from that first meeting with President Mandela, as he was then. First was his extraordinary warmth. Secondly, he seemed to understand intuitively that the Conservatives on the delegation felt uneasy. He went out of his way to put us at ease, and when we went around the table introducing ourselves he said to the Conservatives, “I’m really grateful to Margaret Thatcher for what she did, and I am very grateful to your current Prime Minister, Mr Major, for all he’s done for our country.” It was as though he wanted to go out of his way to put our minds completely at ease. Thirdly, when the hon. Member for Nottingham North started the conversation he said, “Mr President, your Excellency, we are hugely honoured to be here,” and the President said, “No, no, I’m honoured to have you here.” I do not think anyone who met him ever forgot his incredible charm and his impeccable manners.”
Henry also considered Mandela’s legacy, concluding: “What an example this is to other African leaders—he never, ever went out of his way to try to better himself at the expense of his fellow countrymen. He never let power go to his head and he was never, ever corrupted. What an absolute tragedy that more leaders on that continent are not following his extraordinary example. While we mourn a remarkable man, we must give thanks for a truly extraordinary life.”