The enduring theme of Nelson Mandela’s life was the struggle for freedom.
He was part of a group of ANC individuals with the same goal in their lives. They included Oliver Tambo, Mac Maharaj and Thabo Mbeki.
Reading Mandela’s biography the “Long Walk to Freedom” the theme that resonates is that of the liberation struggle. His life has been an inspiration to all those involved in similar struggles around the world. Many of these struggles start off as the few before gathering pace to become the many.
It is in the context of struggle that Mandela’s life needs to be set. Some of the eulogising since his death was announced on Thursday has come from strange quarters. Viewing some of the coverage here it was as though the whole of the UK was united in opposition to apartheid, with those pop concerts being the thing that really helped free Mandela.
These views are absurd. Many of those who now proclaim in favour of Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle were firmly on the other side at the time. Let’s remember, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of this country for 10 years, she stood out defiantly almost alone at times in opposition to the imposition of sanctions on South Africa.
The same British establishment that now seems to want to be allied with all that was good about Nelson Mandela continues to sweep its own atrocities such as those committed in Northern Ireland under the carpet.
Maybe if the British state wants to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela it should take a tip out of his book and create a peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland. This one act in South Africa dealt with much of the hurt and suffering of the past, it also marked an openness that has long been alien to the old imperial country Britain.
Mandela was a hero of South Africa, he led the fight to end apartheid, however in the rush to eulogise, we need to remember that the great man did not bring a better material state to the mass of people in that country. People still live in poverty. One of the great tragedies of South Africa has been that despite Mandela’s dream of equality, the same powerful corporations which dominated under the apartheid regime, seamlessly retained their power and position under Mandela led and subsequent South African governments.
Maybe this was a key to a peaceful transition but it also calls into question how much has changed. Capitalism still rules and mass inequality exists.
Mandela would have recognised this situation. It would also be fair to say he did his bit in ridding the country of its racist rulers, it is for the next generation to sort out poverty and inequality. The struggle continues. Mandela was a great and inspiring man, from which we all can learn...but let’s remember he was also human.