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Eleanor N.
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  • Nelson Mandela

    by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton

    Posted on 2013-12-12

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    NORTON. I thank my good friend, the gentleman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who is so honorably following the great example of his [[Page H8093]] predecessor Bill Gray in leading us today in the House and for all of the work that he has done in the House.



    I want to thank the Congressional Black Caucus and particularly our chairman, Marcia Fudge, who led us on an exhausting but exhilarating trip to South Africa just this week. I want to thank the CBC--before I ever thought about coming to Congress--for their decades of work which was instrumental in release and the work of Nelson Mandela.

    I went to South Africa earlier this week to share with South Africans their farewell to the father of their country, Madiba, the man who meant so much to millions of us, for his leadership throughout the world. And I went because, for me, he was a freedom-defining leader.

    I knew Nelson Mandela before I met him. I was a member of the Free South Africa Movement that was particularly active here in the District of Columbia, the movement led by TransAfrica which became synonymous with Free Mandela.

    Mr. Speaker, it was almost 30 years ago that four of us went into the South African Embassy--Randall Robinson; the head of TransAfrica, Dr. Mary Berry; my own predecessor, former Congressman Walter Fauntroy and I--who secured an appointment with the ambassador of South Africa, I must say, under false pretenses because we didn't intend to come out.

    However, in those first arrests, we could not have imagined the cascade of events that followed. We did not imagine that from all over the country people would come to be arrested to free Mandela.

    Mr. Speaker, perhaps least of all did I imagine that on his 95th birthday we would have a commemoration where the Democratic and the Republican leaders of this House would gather to celebrate Mandela's 95th birthday. If you can imagine the life of Nelson Mandela, there is so much about that life that was unimaginable.

    And there are so many people to thank tonight because as I think about all of those who are connected with Mandela--because there are millions of them--I hope we do not forget those who led this movement, that we do not forget Bill Gray who was the sponsor of the sanctions bill and succeeded in overriding a veto to get it through the Congress of the United States. I hope we do not forget TransAfrica, which invented the struggle for freedom for Mandela, or Ron Dellums or former Senator Mike Lugar, who were sponsors of the bill. I hope we do not forget the hundreds of thousands who lobbied and picketed their State legislatures to divest pension funds from South Africa. It is very difficult to imagine that without collective action, Mandela would have been free to free his country.

    Most of all, Mr. Speaker, tonight we thank Nelson Mandela himself. How do you thank a man for making the highest and best use of his best years, by spending them--almost 30 years--incarcerated and then coming out to peacefully and ever so gently lead his fellow South Africans to lay down their grievances--just as Martin Luther King said, ``Lay down your arms''--laid down their grievances, rose above their painful scars, their own years of suffering, and to somehow march with him into a new multiracial South Africa. It is a South Africa which today, like Madiba, its great leader, is an example for the rest of the world.

    Much of the rest of the world today I hope remembers Madiba not only for what his years of sacrifice meant but for how he used those years to bring peace in the last place where peace was expected.

    I thank the gentleman for leading us tonight.

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