Created: Friday, 20 December 2013
General Assembly Special Meeting dedicated to the life and memory of
His Excellency Nelson Mandela
19th December 2013
Today we gather to honour the extraordinary life of an exceptional man. We normally sing praises of those who spend years in power and achieve great things, build large edifices, win wars. Nelson Mandela, on the contrary, spent almost three decades isolated in a brutal prison and only five short years in power. It is the inspiration and the hope that he provided to his oppressed people during those dark days incarcerated in Roben Island and the leadership and the gentle message of magnanimous reconciliation that he conveyed to all, the oppressor and the oppressed, in the short time he wielded power that has made him so different.
As a schoolboy in distant Sri Lanka, I grew up impressed by the defiance demonstrated by Mandela and outraged by his imprisonment. I was proud of our Prime Minister at the time, Mrs Sirimao Bandaranayaka, who was vocal in the efforts to suspend apartheid South Africa from the Commonwealth of Nations despite the threat of losing the lucrative market for our tea exports to that country. We were always part of the UN General Assembly efforts to end the abomination of apartheid and stood firmly behind the world body as the South African delegation was expelled in 1976. As resistance to the increasingly brutal apartheid regime intensified, I felt for the thousands of young men and women gunned down, savaged by police dogs and water cannoned by the police, especially during the Soweto uprising. Their defiance and resistance inspired by a group of men, along with Nelson Mandela, imprisoned in windswept Roben Island.
In power, after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela inspired humanity by his remarkable lack of an urge for vengeance which many other victors have so readily demonstrated. He converted the oppressor to a ready collaborator and the those who collaborated with the oppressor in to reluctant partners. He was indeed a rare human being. To be able to so readily forgive and not seek vengeance for the endless humiliations that he personally suffered and the brutality and deprivation that his people were subjected to, for so long, exemplified the best in human nature. Nelson Mandela contained the burning urge of his people to seek to redress the injustices that they had suffered from centuries of colonialism and apartheid. He was an inspiration to Africa and to the rest of humanity. A hero from a mould that he himself created.
Sri Lanka observed two days of national mourning on the passing of this great son of Africa. My President, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, attended the funeral ceremonies in South Africa.
We are fortunate indeed to have lived at a time that Nelson Mandela walked this earth.
I thank you.