Keith pays tribute to Nelson Mandela in the Commons

Posted on December 10th, 2013 in Local News

To remember the late Nelson Mandela, the House of Commons held a special one off session to pay tribute. Below is the text of the speech Keith gave:

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I begin by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for clearing the Order Paper today to allow Members to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. It shows the unique way in which the House views that great man, the great Madiba, that we should have these tributes. I am in the fortunate position of agreeing with everything that every other speaker has said, which I suppose is a feature of this important and historic debate.

I met Nelson Mandela just after I was elected to the House. He was attending a reception in Westminster, and my meeting with him echoes the stories that others who met him have recounted today. I cannot say that I had anything like the relationship with him that my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) had, but anyone who did meet him will know that he was an extraordinary and very special man.

To the black and ethnic minority communities in this country, Nelson Mandela will of course have a very special place. When my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) was interviewed at the weekend, he talked eloquently about Madiba’s visit to Brixton and the great inspiration that he had been to the people there. Certainly if we go to any meeting at which race and racism is discussed, the example, legacy and inspiration of Nelson Mandela is mentioned. It is not just in respect of South Africa that we remember him. On one of his visits, we saw his support for the Stephen Lawrence campaign. He met Doreen and Neville Lawrence, and after the meeting he said this:

“We are deeply touched by the brutality of this murder, even though it is commonplace in our country. It seems black lives are cheap.”

Neville and Doreen Lawrence were inspired by those words, and it was the support of that global figure that enabled the campaign to be so successful.

On my arrival as the parliamentary candidate in Leicester, I walked straight into a Mandela issue: one of the controversies that unfortunately surrounded so many of the schemes to name monuments, parks and buildings after Mandela. After my selection, there was a huge controversy in Leicester because the local council—led at the time by the current mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby—was trying to rename the Welford Road recreation ground after Nelson Mandela. Many people objected, because they felt that he had no connection with Leicester, but the council persisted and named it after him.

Twenty-five streets in the towns and cities of the United Kingdom are named after Mandela, nearly a third of the world’s known total. Most date back to the 1980s. The first example was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), where the council unveiled Mandela close in 1981. I think that if Members wish to keep the legacy of Mandela going locally, they should take account of the examples set by other cities, such as Leicester, and try to name something after this great man.

Let me end by saying just two things, because I know that many other Members want to speak. Nelson Mandela was concerned not just about South Africa, but about Africa, and what concerned him was the legacy of those who had ruined that beautiful and rich continent because of colonial rule. When he won in South Africa, he said that it was not just about South Africa and apartheid in South Africa, but about laying the foundations of democracy for the future of Africa as a whole. Although our focus will naturally be on South Africa, especially this week, many other countries deserve the support of the House, and, although Mandela’s reach was global, he was particularly concerned about his own continent.

Every time we come into the Chamber for prayers—led by your marvellous chaplain, Mr Speaker—we read the words of the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those words of the Lord’s Prayer were practised by Mandela. He never preached religion, but his values in forgiving trespasses are very obvious in the life of this remarkable man. We will truly never see his like again.