“He is resting, he is at peace…”

In Legends, Obituary, Politics, World events on December 6, 2013 at 10:19 am


I’m interrupting the scheduled programme – as the BBC did last night, which I don’t remember happening since Princess Diana died – to take a moment to reflect on the life of Nelson Mandela.

He has been a shining beacon of hope for me since the first time I heard about him – which I don’t mind admitting was in the The Specials 1984 song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’.


It’s such an uplifting riff, with words powerful in their simplicity – that brought the man and his cause to a huge audience. Which just goes to show the role popular music can play in society.

21 years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
You’re so blind that you cannot see

I listened to those lyrics and set about finding out exactly who he was and why he was in that prison.

While I was too young and ignorant to have heard of the great ANC freedom fighter until then, I did know about apartheid and as a teenager had beseeched my mum not to buy South African grapes, or any other produce of that benighted country. She agreed and didn’t.

It was my first political act.

When the powerful song Ain’t Going to Play Sun City came out the year after The Specials I knew exactly what it was about.  And I find the video as powerful now as I did thirty years ago. (Sorry for poor quality here, but it’s better than nothing.)


Last night when I first read the news about Mr Mandela’s death on Twitter, my 11 year old daughter heard my wail and came down stairs to find me sobbing at the computer.

The whole family then sat and watched the news on the telly, my daughter bemused why mum and dad cared so much about some old man she’d never heard of.

And so all three of us got into the big bed together and we told her about colonialism and apartheid. Or tried to, it was hard to know where to start.

‘You’re kidding me,’ was her first response. Then she thought a bit more and said: ‘Was it like in The Help?’

Like that and much worse, we told her, going on to explain the psychotic hierarchy of black, white and ‘coloured’.

Watching the look of appalled disgust growing on her face as she understood what had been done to people, sanctioned by the state, simply because of the colour of their skin, was to appreciate yet again what a victory Nelson Mandela achieved, not just for his own country, but for mankind.

The world is greatly lessened today, for not having him in it any more, as the kind of global conscience he became (his words on the US bombing on Iraq make you stop and think). But his wisdom will endure forever in his words.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

Rest in peace, Tata Madiba. You have earned it.



  1. Dear Maggie

    Thank you for posting this and your beautiful tribute to the great man LOve and thanks from Kari X

  2. Mr Mandela showed us how to be a better person, a better society, a better nation. His gift will live on. Thank you Mr Mandela rest in peace.

  3. I remember coming home from school in 6th class having learnt about apartheid. I was so enraged and I remember saying to my mum “what are you going to do??” I was so angry, we had friends who were African and so it was so real to me, these people I loved couldn’t do what we could do, that they would be treated so harshly for their skin colour made my 11 yo self so angry and confused.

    Years later when I saw Nelson Mandela dancing on stage when he won the election I remember really thinking, the worst is over, this is the moment when everything changes, and it did.
    We were so lucky to have lived at the same time as him, I’m writing this with tears streaming down my face. May he be remembered for his courage and wisdom.

  4. Thanks for sharing Maggie. For e too, South Africa and apartheid was when I first became aware of what it meant to take action against injustice. It’s never left me.

    And thanks for the music! I spy Peter Garrett at 4:25 in the Sun City clip!

    • Yes! I spotted him in there too! That would be something pretty special to look back on. He was always a man of conscience. I had to turn off the X Factor in the UK last night, because they singing songs by Elton John and while I do love his music, he is one of the people who DID play Sun bloody City and it just seemed like really really bad timing…. x

  5. he is free now…….

  6. Thanks for such a heartfelt tribute : I didn’t listen to the news at all yesterday and when I went to pick up my daughter from school (she’s 16, so knows a bit about Nelson Mandela) she was rather upset and sad; partly to have to break the news to me.

    Like you, my first awareness of Nelson Mandela was through the Specials song. I first heard it at the beginning of 1985 in a little Austrian village full of English, Australian, South African and New Zealand skiers. Everyone would get up and sing and dance to it; except for a lot of the white South Africans who would conspicuously sit down again…

    We need people like Mandela; may he be forever remembered and inspire justice.

    • Well, I am glad it’s not just me who found out about him that way! I had been big into the Rock Against Racism protests in London in the late 1970s, from sincere conviction – but also because it was just amazing to be in a march with 1000s of cool young people which ended with a free concert in Hackney with the Clash and many other amazing bands playing. That was one of the best days of my life.

  7. Dear M,
    This is my third attempt to leave a comment here … and again tearing up at the thought.
    So many wonderful, inspirational and unforgettable quotes to draw on from the beloved Nelson Mandela and from others on him; recalling the powerful emotions I experienced with 2 very pro Mandela South African friends as we watched him make his inauguration speech now so long ago and this week the words of the current SA leader on the day of Mandela’s death “…He was our greatest son”. For so many of us indeed, all over the world “… He was our greatest son”. Rest in peace.

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