Welsh MPs share their memories of Nelson Mandela

No fewer than 10 of Wales's 40 MPs spoke during yesterday's parliamentary tributes to Nelson Mandela.

Some speeches were more personal than others. Peter Hain, who grew up in South Africa and made his name fighting apartheid, remembered how his mother Adelaine had often been alone in the whites-only section of the public gallery at Mandela's trial in 1962. The Hains left South Africa in 1966 for London.

The Neath MP praised the prime minister for "apologising for his party's record of what I have to describe as craven indulgence towards apartheid's rulers" but criticised former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit for what he called "complicity with apartheid" at the time.

Mr Hain highlighted Mandela's sense of mischief, demonstrated when the former Welsh secretary married in 2003: "He had apologised earlier for not coming to our wedding, instead sending a message, which contained these impish words to us newly-weds: 'But perhaps I will be able to come next time!'"

Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader, Elfyn Llwyd, recalled Mandela's speech to both Houses of Parliament in 1996, adding: "May I remind the chamber that he also said that there will never be world peace without a resolution of the Palestinian conflict? Perhaps the greatest tribute that we can pay him is to redouble our efforts to achieve that in his glorious memory. "

Albert Owen shared his experience of apartheid South Africa as a 16-year-old during his days in the Merchant Navy: "The first deep sea trip that I made was to South Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope. On that ship was a bosun who was Jamaican, a fireman who was Maltese and a mainly British crew. In the international community that is seafaring, we shared many things. However, when we went ashore in South Africa, we could not do so together."

Hywel Francis shared personal and "received" memories, including of the day Nelson Mandela visited the shadow cabinet room at Westminster in 1990, to be shown a Welsh miners' banner - featuring a white miner shaking hands with a black miner - that had been hung on the wall.

Dr Francis recalled: "Nelson Mandela was puzzled by the slogan, "Mewn undeb mae nerth a heddwch"—in unity there is strength and peace—and he asked about its significance and meaning." The Aberavon MP said he had arranged for the banner to return to the shadow cabinet room "on the condition that it stays in the shadow cabinet room in perpetuity", which might be a political challenge for some future occupants of that room.

Susan Elan Jones, like many MPs, had Mandela memories from her student days: "I have to confess that once upon a time I stood waving a placard outside the university of Bristol union against someone who was viewed as a very right-wing member of the Federation of Conservative Students. I could not possibly name that person; suffice it to say that I think he looks rather better sat in a green chair and wearing a tie with the flag of South Africa on it."

The Speaker, John Bercow, did his best not to blush: "Yes, I fear it was on 23 October 1986; I remember it only too well. I am grateful to the hon. Lady, I am sure, for reminding me.

David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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