Sir Malcolm Rifkind said Mr Mandela was “not a saint” and drew gasps when he said the struggle for peace was more difficult for FW de Klerk
Gasps: Sir Malcolm Rifkind paid a controversial tribute to Nelson Mandela
Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind stunned MPs by saying ending apartheid was more difficult for the white South African leader FW de Klerk than for Nelson Mandela.
The former Foreign Secretary also said Mr Mandela was “not a saint” who believed in armed struggle.
His comments drew gasps from Labour MPs and jarred with the cross-party tributes paid to the former South African leader in a special session of the Commons.
Sir Malcolm said: “Nelson Mandela was not a saint, as we have heard. He was a politician to his fingertips. He actually believed in the armed struggle in the earlier part of his career and perhaps to some degree for the rest of his career.”
He added: “There was not just Nelson Mandela, who undoubtedly deserves the vast bulk of the credit, but there was also the South African president FW de Klerk. And without both of them it would not have been a peaceful resolution.
“And in some ways it was more difficult for de Klerk than Mandela.”
Peter Hain turned on Conservatives for their “complicity” in the Apartheid movement which imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
Peter Hain meeting Nelson Mandela in 2000.
What better publicity could Peter Hain wish for for his 2010 Biography on the man himself!
Mr Hain said he disagreed with Sir Malcolm’s characterisation of Mr Mandela and that over most of his life he was a believer in “non-violent, legal peaceful change”.
He went on: “By force of circumstance – the suppression of his African National Congress’s non-violent campaign for over 60 years – he had to become a freedom fighter and to lead an underground campaign of guerrilla activity similar to the French resistance against the Nazis.”
The Labour MP, one of the leading figures in the anti-apartheid campaign, accused the Tories of trying to rewrite the history of the fight for equality in South Africa when they had actually shown a “craven indulgence” towards the apartheid regime.
He praised Tories such as the Speaker John Bercow who had admitted they had been on the wrong side of the struggle in the 1980s.
“And if Nelson Mandela can forgive his oppressors without forgetting their crimes, who am I not to do the same to our opponents in the long decades of the anti-apartheid struggle,” he said.
But he went on: “It really does stick in the craw when Lord Tebbit, Charles Moore and others similar tried over recent days to claim that their complicity with apartheid – and that’s what I think it was – somehow brought about its end.
“Even, to my utter incredulity, when Lord Tebbit told BBC World, in a debate with me, that they had brought about Mandela’s freedom. I know for a fact that Nelson Mandela did not think so.”
Peter Hain and Nelson Mandela were no strangers to one another : They first met in 1991 when Mandela was visiting Parliament.
David Cameron led the tributes by hailing Mr Mandela as “towering figure” in world history.
“The most important monument to Mandela must be the lessons that he has taught us. That there is dignity and worth in every human being, that an ounce of humility is worth more than a tonne of might, that lasting long-term change needs patience – even the patience of a lifetime – but that change can come with determination and sacrifice.
“So it’s with sadness we meet here today to remember Nelson Mandela. But it’s with gladness that we can say this – it was a long walk to freedom but the walk is over, freedom was won and for that Nelson Mandela has the deepest respect of this House and his enduring place in history,” the PM said.
In a rare Commons appearance, former PM Gordon Brown said the former South African president was the “greatest man of his generation.”
“Winston Churchill said that courage was the greatest human virtue of all, because upon courage everything else depended.
“And Nelson Mandela had eloquence, determination, commitment, passion, wit and charm, but it was his courage that brought all these things to life.
“We sometimes think of courage as being daring bravado, as taking risks and recklessness,and it is all these things that Mandela had in admirable qualities,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown and his predecessors as PM, Tony Blair and Sir John Major will attend the memorial service in South Africa tomorrow along with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.
In a pitch-perfect tribute, Mr Miliband praised Mr Mandela as an “enduring and unique symbol of courage, hope and the fight against injustice. “
The Labour leader continued: “He teaches us the power of forgiveness, showing no bitterness towards his captors. Just the love of a country that could be so much better if all of its people could be free.
“And he demonstrates even to the most sceptical, the power of people and politics to change our world.”
Mr Clegg said Mr Mandela’s lasting legacy was to show that peace is always possible with hope and courage.
“To champion the defenders of human rights today and to know that wherever there is conflict and injustice, with hope and courage, peace is always possible,” he said.
source : Daily Mirror