Former PM farewells Mandela

19:11, Dec 11 2013
MANDELA IN NZ: Former PM Jim Bolger follows Nelson Mandela as he meets RSA members in Arrowtown at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1995.
MANDELA IN NZ: Former PM Jim Bolger follows Nelson Mandela as he meets RSA members in Arrowtown at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1995.

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger said goodbye to a friend yesterday.

Scores of world leaders and dignitaries filed past the body of Nelson Mandela, as he lay in state at Union Buildings, Pretoria.

It was where the presidential inauguration took place, in 1994, four years after Mandela was released from prison.

"I would reflect on the time that I was in the same building at President Mandela's inauguration and it was sort of completing the journey," Bolger said. "To be there as he took up the reins of office as president, and we said farewell to him in the same place."

Bolger opposed the 1981 Springbok tour, which divided New Zealand, and 20 years ago said it was "a mistake." However, he was part of the Government that allowed it to go ahead and then cracked down on protesters.

It was "very sad to see him there. But also to know that he was at peace," he said yesterday.

When prime minister, he met Mandela a number of times. "We got to know each other every well. I enjoyed his company immensely. So we were saying farewell."

He was one of two leaders invited to meet with Mandela the day after the inauguration. "I remember the humility...he never said a bitter word, he never criticised anybody."

The Nobel Peace laureate was a person that people wanted to be with - which was why so many world leaders came to South Africa this week to pay tribute. "And that I think is the measure of the man. South Africa is not a huge country that is going to dominate the world...they weren't here because of South Africa, they were here because of Mandela."

Bolger has many memories of the much-loved leader, including an early morning phone call to discuss the education system. He held New Zealand in "high regard" particular with regards to race relations.

Most memorable was Mandela striding onto the pitch, wearing a number six jersey, when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

He also recalled Mandela as a formidable force when the Commonwealth was trying to expel Nigeria, at a 1995 retreat in Queenstown, and needed to win over Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. "Of course it was his mana. I wasn't there when they met but I do know that Mugabe was more calm, considered."

While most leaders filed by in silence, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples and Labour leader David Cunliffe performed a poroporoaki, a traditional Maori farewell to the dead.

"I just wanted a bit of New Zealand there," Sharples said. "Because we worked so hard on the [anti-apartheid] protests."

He said Mandela had put aside his hate and anger to create a new future for his people.

The week was moving and unique. "The highlight was seeing the man laying there, knowing he had done his job well."

Cunliffe said the few moments he spent by Mandela's body were "poignant and sombre."

"He was looking like a big man at rest...I was thinking about where to now for South Africa."

Prime Minister John Key, who led the delegation, said the day was more reflective than yesterday's boisterous memorial service.

"It was sad in a way...the reality strikes more deeply when you see the person lying there in state...I just took a moment and said goodbye."

The delegation left South Africa following the lying in state.

Mandela's tearful widow Grachal Machal, and his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela were among thousands, including presidents and royalty, who visited the enormous marquee yesterday to view the half-open coffin.

Irish rocker Bono and Mandela's old foe turned friend FW de Klerk were among the mourners. Earlier locals performed an honour guard as the procession moved through the streets of the city.

Mandela will be buried at his childhood home of Qunu on Sunday.