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.