Pelosi Floor Speech Honoring the Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

December 13, 2013

Washington, D.C.— House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took to the House floor today to honor the life, leadership, and legacy of South African President Nelson Mandela.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Fattah for hosting this special order as part of the Congressional Black Caucus period of mourning for Nelson Mandela.  I was so proud that so many Members of the CBC and others who went to South Africa to be present at the celebration of the life and the memorial services for President Mandela.  I wish I could have gone.  In fact, I thought I was, so did Mr. Van Hollen.  But the business of the budget kept us here.  But our thoughts and prayers were with all of you as we were at the National Cathedral yesterday.

“What I came to the floor to say, of course to associate myself with the beautiful sentiments expressed by my colleagues about an icon in the world, a person that is so unique in history – not just in our lifetime, but in the history of the world.  When I was asked today some thoughts about President Mandela, I said: ‘What he did reminded me of King Solomon.  King Solomon was to inherit the Kingdom, the throne from his father, King David.  He prayed to God with a great spirit of humility and the humility, he said to God: ‘Please give me the wisdom to be the King of your people.  To follow in the footsteps of King David.  Please give me wisdom and understanding so that I can do the job.’

“And God came back to him another night and said: ‘Solomon, because you did not ask for longevity, vengeance upon your enemies, or great wealth, I will give you more wisdom and more understanding than any other person has ever had and people will come from all around and your wisdom will be renowned in the world for ages to come.’  It reminds me so much of Nelson Mandela because in his greatness was that spirit of humility, that humility that was open to wisdom, to understanding, being in somebody else's place, that led him not to wish for long life, though God gave him that, not to give him great wealth, which he did not possess, certainly not to give him vengeance upon his enemy because that was the opposite of what he was.

“In the spirit of forgiveness, as our colleagues have discussed, and reconciliation, the great wisdom god gave him as well as long life was able to use that wisdom springing from that humility to understand other persons' situations and then of course to do great things – things that would make him renowned for ages to come.  For his wisdom and for his spirit.

“I had the privilege of seeing President Mandela when he came to address the Joint Session of Congress in 1994 as the President of South Africa.  Afterwards the Speaker, Speaker Foley, had a luncheon and invited a number of us to lunch with President Mandela – a large number of us.  President Mandela spoke again at that luncheon.  What was sad was that he spoke about the price he paid to be the father of his country and the expense that came at being the father of his family.  We talked about how hard it was to be separated for your family for over 26 years.  Imagine – from his wife and children, meeting their needs and the rest and also his needs to be a father.  He made quite a sacrifice.  It was urgent that he do so.

“But again, in different periods of his life he demonstrated great courage, great determination, great strength, great persistence in prison, great sadness about not seeing his family.  And all of that strengthened him to say he really had to exploit the investments that had been made by the people of South Africa in the name Mandela and when he came out to be an example to the world of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a strength unlike most of us have ever seen.

“In California, I have to say, we take some ownership of the Mandela.  The whole issue, whether it was stopping investments in South Africa and the rest – Ron Dellums was the champion of this; we're proud of the role that we played in the great state of California.  But it really is, again, in that same humility that is a virtue that we should all possess, that I come to this floor to even talk about such a great – we went from a village to a leader of a movement, to prison, to the presidency of South Africa.  From a name that we heard in America, to a person who would address the Joint Session of Congress, Joint Chiefs were here, too.  But on top of all of that, to go from his village, to be a world icon.

“Thank you, my colleagues, for giving me the time.”