Prime Minister David Cameron led the U.K. Parliament in tributes to former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
“Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our lifetime -- a pivotal figure in the history of South Africa and the world -- and it is right that we meet in this Parliament to pay tribute to his character, his achievements and his legacy,” Cameron told the House of Commons in London today.
Cameron, opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will join three former prime ministers -- Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major -- tomorrow at Mandela’s memorial service in Johannesburg.
“Progress is not just handed down as a gift, it is won through struggle -- the struggle of men and women who believe things can be better, who refuse to accept the world as it is but dream of what it can be,” Cameron said. “Nelson Mandela was the embodiment of that struggle. He did not see himself as the helpless victim of history -- he wrote it.”
“It is in the spirit of what Nelson Mandela taught us to acknowledge the truth about the past, and without rancor to welcome the change that has come to pass,” Miliband said. “But also to honor his legacy, by acknowledging in every country, including our own, the battle against racial injustice still needs to be won.”
Miliband recalled when Mandela addressed Labour’s annual conference in 2000, jokingly describing himself as “an unemployed pensioner with a criminal record.”
Brown, who rarely attends sessions in the House of Commons, was among the first speakers today. “Across the generations he was the most courageous person you could ever hope to meet,” Brown said of Mandela, describing also how he was fond of gossiping about everyone from world leaders to pop singers the Spice Girls.
Britain’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, will be represented by her eldest son, Prince Charles, at the funeral in Qunu, Mandela’s home village, on Dec. 15.