Friday, 6 December 2013

Mandela Gone

I read about his death on the big screen of a pub last night. I was out celebrating my return to Oxford with a friend whose wife is from South Africa: that seemed sort of appropriate. We talked about Nelson and the way that he had impacted our lives of course, but I was unemotional; no man can go on forever. This morning lying in bed listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 review Mandela's life, character and achievements, I shed a few tears. In common with so many people I feel that the man, and the fight to defeat apartheid, are part of my life.

Not that my role was at all significant, but every little did help in a battle where good and bad seemed so clearly demarked. I was a member of the Anti Apartheid movement. I read its regular newspaper and travelled to London for demonstrations where I was appalled and frightened by the hunger for violence shown by a minority of the demonstrators and police. I dramatically announced my determination to close my account at the local branch of Barclay's bank because of the company's links with South Africa - only to be told that I was overdrawn! We boycotted South African fruit and cheered at the grand attempts to isolate the regime from sporting activities.

Like so many I watched TV for hours as we waited for Mandela's release from prison. I can still picture the entranceway to that prison where time seemed to stand still until, finally, the great man was allowed out. I failed to go to Wembley when Mandela came to England at last, but was proud that one member of the family, my youngest daughter, was there amongst the crowds to greet him. And what a greeting. I cannot remember how many times Nelson walked to that microphone to speak, only to retreat again and again as the crowd continued to pour out warm waves of adulation. And he handled it so well.

Of course, everyone knows that one person rarely changes history, but Nelson Mandela is, and always will be, the symbol of a new South Africa and the gradual death of racial intolerance.

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