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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11049


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/11/1999

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 11049



On behalf of the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, I am

pleased to bestow upon Mr Nelson Mandela an Honour in the Companionship

of the Order of Australia.


Prime Minister I present to you Mr Nelson Mandela who has been appointed

an Honorary Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia

for Services to Australian-South African relations and for his outstanding

leadership in bringing multi-racial democracy to South Africa.

[Prime Minister bestows insignia upon Mr Mandela]


You get two politicians in the same room and they compete for who speaks


Mr Nelson Mandela; David Connolly, the Australian High Commissioner in South

Africa; Mrs Connolly; Ministers of the South African Government; Mrs Helen

Suzman, a former very distinguished member of the South African Parliament;

ladies and gentleman.

This is a very special and precious ceremony for many Australians and many

South Africans. Many exaggerated words are used about men and women and

their contribution to the world and their contribution to the relief of

human suffering. But the words of praise that have been uttered by so many

in relation to Nelson Mandela are, in every sense, truly justified. He is

in every sense of the word a man of this century.

He is a person whose moral and physical courage inspired a nation. He is

a person whose leadership brought together people who it was never conceived

could work together in peace and love and in harmony.

For somebody such as myself and the Australians present who have never known

anything other than the proposition that all people are born equal, and

that equal opportunity is available to all, because that has been the experience

of our homeland, it is beyond understanding for us how a person who suffered

as much as did Mr Mandela, has nonetheless displayed such incredible grace

and dignity and moral leadership in his responsibilities. And in the process

has set an example to the world.

His deeds are well known. The contribution he has made to bringing about

a multi-racial, democratic South Africa is acclaimed around the world. His

moral example is without peer in our generation, and importantly for us

today, because this is an Australian South African celebration, it is appropriate

to acknowledge the links between our two countries. And I would like on

this occasion to pay tribute to two of my predecessors, Malcolm Fraser and

Bob Hawke, from opposite sides of the political divide within Australia,

that both of them played a determined role in bringing about change in South

Africa. And both of them on this occasion would like, I know, me to speak

on their behalf to express their respect and admiration to Nelson Mandela

and for what he represents. He has done great things for mankind. He has

done great things for South Africa.

What he has achieved since his release from detention not so long ago is

quite remarkable. And I have had the opportunity on this, my first visit

to this beautiful country, to spend some time with his successor, Thabo

Mbeki at the Commonwealth Conference and to marvel at the progress that

has been made in building the new South Africa, and marvel at the way in

which so many daunting challenges have been overcome.

There are many things about Nelson Mandela's life that have touched different

people in different ways. And as is so often the case in our human experience,

it is the symbolic gestures at the right time and in the right place with

the right sense of occasion that really leave an indelible impression upon

us. And I think many of us will remember that remarkable symbolic gesture

by Nelson Mandela in donning that number six jersey belonging to Francois

Pienaar after South Africa had won the World Cup in rugby only four years

ago. It touched the heart of many people who had been of another and different

political view from Mr Mandela and it was truly a symbolic gesture of a

truly uniting national leader.

I am especially grateful that Mr Mandela has allowed his name to be leant

to the fellowships, the awards which are given to gifted young South African

students and academics and they will henceforth be known as the Mandela


Although he is no longer President, he has continued to play a very active

role in bringing his great moral influence to bear in world affairs. And

I am especially grateful for what he did in his discussions with Xanana

Gusmao, the East Timorese leader and also the strenuous efforts that he

undertook to secure the release of Peter Wallace and Steve Pratt, the two

Australian CARE workers who were so unjustly imprisoned in Belgrade.

So to you Mr Mandela you are a great man of this century. You are a person

whose moral leadership, your moral depth, your political skill, your compassion,

your capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation have given to the world

an example that I don't think in our lifetime we will see again. So it is

a particular privilege for the Government and the people of Australia that

you have been pleased to accept the honorary award as a Companion of the

Order of Australia. It is the highest award in the Order of Australia and

I can think of no more fitting citizen of the world to receive that award

than Nelson Mandela. I thank you for what you have done for your country

and for your example to all of mankind. Thank you.


Prime Minister Howard, I find it very difficult to address you in that manner.

I prefer the usual way in which I speak to you to say John, but I don't

know whether the Australians will forgive me if I become so familiar to


I remember that shortly after I had been released from prison, I visited

Australia. A program was arranged for me and I was very happy indeed to

look at it. As I was carrying out this program I received a delegation from

the aborigines and they asked me "who gave you the right to come here?"

I said, well, I was invited you know by the Government. And they said "well

you know this is our country." I said well, I'm sure it is - your country

as well. And they say "now you must come and visit us in our area." I had

to negotiate because they were very angry and I went to see them. And I

said to them that I am very sorry that I came there without permission but

at the same time I would like to say to that we have been arguing about

these questions in South Africa, but what we decided to do was to stop the

argument and to go to our enemies at the time and say let's sit down and

talk. And I said you make my task easy if you go to the Government and talk

to them and arrange what should happen when you invite somebody like me

to you country.

Now when I was told about this award, I thought of my younger days when

I was running around the hills of my village. At that time we thought that

Australia was another name for Sir Don Bradman. And we didn't know Australia

at all. Later of course we came to know about eminent citizens of Australia

like Sir Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, as John has said, and now of course,

the man who cracks the whip is here.

Now you have referred to the Rugby World Cup in 1995. I want to start there,

because I want to show that we are equal. If you remember the very first

match was between South Africa and Australia and the Australians were the

reigning champions at the time. And I went to see our boys at Silver Mine

in Cape Town where they were stationed. And I said to our captain, Francois

Pienaar that the team that wins this match will go right through to the

final. And I said that the entire South Africa is behind you and that we

expect you to take that honour. And I was very happy indeed that we were

able to win, although I almost collapsed because of tension. Because I have

never seen a game against the All Blacks where there were no tries. And

where it was all penalties. And I think that it was when I was about to

collapse, that Stransky had a drop goal and that made the day for us.

But when Sir Malcolm Fraser asked me to intervene in Yugoslavia and get

your two journalists released, I was very much embarrassed because hardly

two weeks before that President Milosevic had asked me to come and pay a

state visit and asked me to condemn the strikes by NATO. I didn't know that

Sir Malcolm Fraser would ask me to undertake this type of mission. I wasn't

very polite to President Milosevic because I indicated that he was responsible

for what was happening there and I wouldn't come. Now I had to come back

to him and say please can you release those two? It was very difficult.

I suspect that had not her Majesty the Queen and Pope John Paul not worked

with me, I would not have succeeded, and perhaps the greater thanks, more

thanks should be addressed to them and not myself. I still played a very

small role.

Now it is always difficult to find the right words on occasions of this

nature, but relations between Australia and South Africa can only be described

by words intimate, and there is a wide variety of ties between us which

I will not go into. But during the war, the Second World War, I had decided

that I would never join. But the only occasion when I had doubts whether

I was doing the right thing or not was when the Australian troops passed

though Cape Town. Their behaviour, because this is the past, because at

the time we were so hostile to the South African army, that the very thought

of participating in a war where South Africa was involved was revolting.

But when we saw the Australian soldiers, the way they condemned racism and

the way they moved amongst us and visited some of our schools, made me feel

that I ought to be next to these men when fighting fascism. But those days

are long passed, but I still cherish the memories of the contact with Australian

soldiers and I am very grateful indeed, John, for this honour.

There are many men here and women here who, when I was President, when they

met me or passed me by they would bow. When the days were close for me to

step down, they would hardly look at me. It is worse now, and I hope that

by giving me this honour, they will give me some amount of respect. And

thank you very much for the honour. It means a great deal not only to me

and my family, but to the entire South Africa because it is not one individual

who is responsible for the praise that you have showered on one. We are

basically a team, collective leadership and there is hardly anything any

one of us does that has not been discussed before, very thoroughly by the

leadership of the organisation and an individual is merely there to articulate.

So the men and women that you should thank are sitting down there. They

have made even a greater contribution than myself, but I hope that they'll

allow me to keep this medal on their behalf. Thank you very much.


We'll now have a toast....All right, well everybody has got to have a drink.


Well, you know I don't drink champagne, I don't drink wine. The only thing

I drink is rum.


Ladies and gentlemen will you please be upstanding and join us in drinking

a toast.


I would like all to join in drinking to the health of a great man, Mr Nelson

Mandela. Nelson Mandela.


May I respond, by asking you to raise your glasses to a really great man,

John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia.


Transcript 11049