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Pelosi Remarks Celebrating 95th Birthday and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol today in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, his legacy, and his values.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“As we celebrate the legacy and values of Nelson Mandela, as we mark his greatness by the reading of his own words, it is important to note that the spirit and the words of Nelson Mandela have permeated the halls of the Capitol for many years and many times.  On two occasions, more than nearly any other foreign leader in history, Nelson Mandela addressed a Joint Session of Congress.  In 1990, as Deputy President of the African National Congress, he urged us to keep our apartheid sanctions in place.  His stirring words inspired us and instructed us.  And that instruction continued with Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, with Ron Dellums, our former colleague, with Bill Gray who we thought was going to be here with us today but I understand his wife Andrea is.  And I want to recognize Bill Gray’s work and the great contributions to all of us.


“To Mr. Clyburn, our Distinguished Assistant [Democratic] Leader, of course with [Congresswoman] Maxine [Waters] and the list goes on and on.  And that leadership continues with the Congressional Black Caucus under the leadership of [Congresswoman] Marcia Fudge. 

“As Deputy President, Mandela stated then: ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.  To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanize them.’  Four years later, he returned to the House chamber – this time, as the democratically-elected President of South Africa.


“Following one of those addresses – some of us had the privilege of having lunch with President Mandela in Statuary Hall, you remember that.  And he spoke again following his joint session address and he talked in very personal terms about what it was like – all those years in prison – and he talked about his family.  He spoke in a personal way of the burden of imprisonment, of the sacrifice he made, not only about himself but the sacrifice that his family made; not only at the cost of personal freedom to him, but the price of personal time with his family.

“Indeed, to become father of a country, he had to make sacrifices that meant he could not be a full-time father to his family.  Those of us who have had the opportunity to be there that day were in tears just to hear his opening up in that way.  Those us of who’ve ever had the privilege or opportunity to visit Robben Island know he was cut off from his family physically, though not spiritually, as Congressman Steny [Hoyer] indicated in his remarks, in his quoting of [President] Mandela. 

“For 27 years, as we all know, before he appeared before Congress, Nelson Mandela had languished in a lonely cell.  He remained a prisoner, a lawyer punished for challenging the law, denied his rights, disconnected from the movement – although, as you know, others were in prison in Robben Island at the time and had their ways of collaborating – fighting for his freedom, missing his family.

“He epitomized the pain of apartheid and the struggle to end it; he was a symbol of the oppression and prejudice that plagued millions across Africa.  Yet Nelson Mandela never gave up hope.  He never lost faith in the strength of the human spirit.  As he told Congress and our country in his second address to Congress in 1994, his freedom and his country’s progress ‘represent the triumph of that intangible nobility of spirit which…makes for peace and friendship among peoples.’  To succeed in the struggle required courage.  As Mandela once defined it: ‘courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ 

“When he was released from prison, he had the courage to turn not to hatred, but to love; not to vengeance, but to compassion; not to resentment, but to reconciliation.  And that reconciliation was South Africa’s gift to the world, as Desmond Tutu has taught us over and over again.  He emerged from his cell, Nelson Mandela did, not with malice in his heart, but with forgiveness in his soul.  As President, he would extend the blessings of freedom even to men and women who denied him his own. 

“That was the true mark of courage.  That was the statement of his values.  Today, on his 95th birthday, that remains his legacy.  That was the spirit of the Free South Africa Movement, whose success would be measured in more than the freedom of one man, but in the human rights of a people; manifested in long lines at polling places in free and fair elections.  It was a movement inspired by a giant of history.  May we always answer the call for justice, reconciliation, and peace: the call of Nelson Mandela.  Happy birthday, Madiba.


“Others have mentioned the experience and the spark that the Free South Africa Movement created.  [Congresswoman] Eleanor Holmes Norton, our colleague, was a part of it and described very well going in to the embassy and some of what transpired. 

“Now, we’ll hear from some of the other leaders of the Free South African Movement who visited the embassy, each playing an essential role in the fight to end apartheid.  Now, let’s hear from William Lucy, from Cecelie Counts, and from Dr. Mary Frances Berry.”