What can you say about Nelson Mandela? I think it depends on your age. It is generational. You might be 21…31…41…51. Or you might be 61 as I am and a “news junkie” and “political anorak” for half a century.
The strange thing is that I can remember some very unlikely news stories. In my granny’s house, I surprised my family my saying “Thats Mr McMillan” as the British Prime Minister arrived at Moscow Airport. He was wearing a Russian style fur hat. I was probably six years old.
And thats how it was in the early 1960s. News stories read by Robert Dougal, Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall on the BBC News. Checkpoint Charlie and the building of the Berlin Wall,George Wallace standing up for segregation in Alabama and the assassination of Henkik Vorwoerdt the South African Prime Minister.
Every so often my father should bring back a copy of American magazine TIME. I think a customer always gave him old copies and I remember the big foreign stories seemed to be Indo-China.
Its odd that in fifty years those issues are resolved…the Berlin Wall has fallen. Integration is the norm in Alabama schools. There is majority rule in South Africa. And Indo-China is now a unified Vietnam.
It is odd that I dont actually recall the name Nelson Mandela from that precise time frame. Even in the more broad context of Colonial Southern Africa…I can recall the breakup in the mid 1960s of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyassaland. The unlikely name of the British Governor…Roy Welensky still means something to me.
Nyassaland became Malawi. Northern Rhodesia became Zambia. Southern Rhodesia declared (white dominated) Rhodesia under Ian Smith….”Good Old Smithy”, kith and kin of British conservatives and favourite of the British Conservative Media.
Yet oddly it was thru Sport that South Africa started to enter the public arena. White only “Springbok” Rugby and Cricket teams were demonstrated against in Britain and Ireland. And Basil D’Doliveira the best South African cricketer of his generation was not eligible to play for South Africa. Emigrating to Britain, he qualified for England and was not selected to visit South Africa on tour…the English Cricket authorities not wishing to offend their hosts.
I really think it was only at that time …late 1960s…that the name “Nelson Mandela” started to resonate with me. An activist in the 1950s, who gave up on peaceful persuasion and advocated armed struggle…its a familiar enough anti-imperialist story. He was imprisoned for “terrorism” in the early 1960s and frankly being routinely described as a “terrorist” on BBC was par for the course.
Again a familiar enough story. Freedom Fighter or Terrorist? You never really know until the struggle is over so that “terrorists” like Jomo Kenyatta and Archbishop Makarios (in 1950s Kenya and Cyprus) get to defeat the British and become respected leaders of the Commonwealth and get members of the British “Royal Family” at their funerals.
Thats how it goes.
And interesting to watch the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s.
The ANC and Rhodesian people fighting white Governments were ….GUERRILLAS.
The Irish fighting the British were…..TERRORISTS.
The Palestinians fighting Israel…..were a curious hybrid.
In the 1970s there was a growing awareness of Nelson Mandela. I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I was an off and on member for the best part of a decade. I think part of me wanted to be “right on” but it seemed a safe (proxy) kind of political awareness.
Cue the songs.
“Free Nelson Mandela” (The Specials)
“Give Me Hope Joanna” (Eddy Grant)
…I wonder if all that Awareness in the 1980was as much to do with a reaction against Margaret Thatcher…a supporter of the Apartheid Regime. Maybe those concerts and those Tshirts were as much to do with British Politics as Sputh African Politics.
Of course at the same time the Federation of Conservative Students were producing their own Tshirts “Hang Nelson Mandela” which echoed the sentiment of the Party as a whole. Wouldn’t it be interesting if photographs emerged from that time to embarrass present-day senior Tories.
Of course Global Politics played a part. If the Russians backed ANC or Palestinians (good causes) then necessarily the British and Americans were in the other camp.
Since the fall of the USSR, the “West” has been falling over themselves to embrace Nelson Mandela.
Of course after the hard liners…the South African Whites…found P W deKlerk. Mandela was seen as the Solution rather than the Problem.
And …THAT Sunday we saw him walk to Freedom.
He freed the Oppressed and freed the Opressor.
He was re-made as the Great Reconciliator.
It is OK for everyone (even David Caumeron) to profess admiration for Nelson Mandela. Whether Tories are genuine about that is a different matter. And even OK for DUP and UUP, the worst kind of imperialists to praise him. Nelson Mandela made it easy for them.
Yet there is slightly too much jumping on the bandwagon.
For Nelson Mandela was four things in his lifetime.
Civil Rights Advocate.
Prisoner (27 years).
I think we can confidently dismiss the unionist-loyalist praise. The Unionists and loyalists had common cause with the Apartheid Regime.
Indeed loyalist gunmen tried to assassinate a South African-born Queens University academic. On the instructions of the South African Intelligence Service.
Loyalists to their credit wont even try to identify with Mandela.
But John Hume was in fact a much more consistent Peacemaker. He was never a member of a freedom fighter/terrorist organisation.
Am I condemning Mandela when I say that?
I dont think so.
The ANC had no real option in the early 1960s.
I would like to be absolutist about non-violence. I am not. The years 1969-1972, I would not like to re-visit. But there WAS a time when violence in Norn Iron ceased to be legitimate.
You may be a nationalist who reads this and says “never, never, never”.
More likely after the fall of Stormont (1972), Sunningdale (1973), Hunger Strikes (1981) or whatever, you might feel that it cease to be legitimate long before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Of course you might legitimately say it should never have started in the first place but I think most reasonable people would say it all went on too long.
While Mandela radiated dignity from his prison cell, Im not totally convinced that smearing your H Block Cell with excrement is dignified.
There is only a limited extent to which Gerry Adams can be passed off as Norn Irons Mandela. For a start he has…he tells us…no history as a freedom fighter/terrorist. So he has only talked the talk and never walked the walk.
Likewise the number of months Gerry has spent in prison does not really compare the twenty seven years that Nelson Mandela spent on Robbin Island.
And Gerry and Sinn Feins commitment to revealing the Past does not seem to compare to Mandela.
I emphasise that I am not being judgemental…just a bit at Sinn Feins “tweets”.
For example, the tribute to Mandela paid by SDLP Leader, Alasdair McDonnell is ridiculed by no less than Danny Morrison, the former Sinn Fein publicity guru.
Morrison reminds us that SDLP voted in favour of the “Special Advisors Bill” which means that Paul Kavanagh lost his job. Rather oddly, Morrison claims Kavanagh is a victim of Apartheid.
Catch yourself on Danny.
Nelson Mandela and Paul Kavanagh together….victims of Apartheid….and victims of Danny Morrisons hyperbole.
But a thought.
Vietnam…Berlin Wall…Alabama….South Africa….those issues that seemed impossible to solve in the 1960s HAVE been solved. Solved because somebody WON and somebody LOST.
Meanwhile decades of talks on Palestine-Israel have led nowhere.
And fifteen years since the Good Friday Agreement, where are we?