Friday, 6 December 2013

Mandela, 'Rolihlahla' the trouble maker

As a teenager my first public political act were in opposition to apartheid. As Young Liberals back in the late 1960's were all deeply involved in the campaign against the all white South African cricket team and in protests against the visiting Springbok rugby side. I remember Rev David Sheppard, then Bishop of Woolwich, coming to Coventry to protest against the rugby match at the Coundan Rd ground. Peter Hain told the story in his book 'Don't Play with Apartheid'. No other issue galvanised young people in the way the anti apartheid movement did. In Britain at that time David Steel was President of AA and last night he was outside South Africa House to pay his respects to Mandela. I spent many hours in the same spot as a student maintaining the continuous protest\vigil that was held there.
As a teenager I had read Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country which made a big impact on me, not least of all because at the time my father had been sent by his employers to work in South Africa. He vowed not to return.
In all the positive comments about Mandela this morning it is worth recalling that at the time we faced a lot of abuse for our support of the anti apartheid movement. The Calvinist Dutch Reform Church found theological justification for  apartheid 'separated development' much as some of the same tradition today assert that their misogyny is justified by the sincere religious belief in 'male headship'. Tories queued up to denounce Mandela and those of us who supported his cause. And who can forget the Conservative Students tee shirts that proclaimed 'Hang Nelson Mandela'.

I am indebted to the disgruntled radical for collecting some the quotes:

"The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation ... Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land" - Margaret Thatcher, 1987

"How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?' - Terry Dicks, Conservative MP, mid-1980s

"Nelson Mandela should be shot" - Teddy Taylor Conservative MP, mid-1980s
Margaret Thatcher called him a terrorist. Tory MPs trooped off to South Africa and so gave succour to the regime. Most of all I recall the Winterton's. I fought two General Elections against Mrs Winterton. She delighted in campaigning against liberal causes and her visits to South Africa and the hospitality she received were worn like a badge of honour. She was finally undone by her telling of racist jokes and the expenses scandal. Her husband once told me a racist story and clearly thought I was 'unmanly' and one of the politically correct people he despised when I pointedly did not laugh. Needless to say they did not join us when the Free Nelson Mandela march wound its way through Cheshire.

It was in the September of that year when the march made its way through the country that I remember the Glee Club at the  Liberal Assembly and Simon Hughes teaching the words of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
Desmond Tutu reminded us last night that Mandela was not called Nelson as a child 'When he was born in 1918 in the rural village of Mvezo, he was named Rolihlahla, or "troublemaker." All his life he made trouble. He confronted the comfortable establishment. I have no doubt that Mandel's  clear vision to build a 'Rainbow nation' to champion multi culturalism and to confound those who strive for a pure national identity will be his lasting legacy. The world grows smaller and there are always those who wish to exploit the fear and insecurity of frightened people with simple tales of nationalism. One of the great cleavages in politics today is between the warping influence of nationalism and internationalism, between those who want to put up barriers and those who want to break them down. Today all nations have to look beyond themselves to the oneness of the world not to the integrity of the nation. Mandela's great influence was not born out the power of his army or the size of his nations GDP but by moral vision that we all human beings are born equal and must live together in one rainbow world. The difference of ethnicity, nationalism, history matter far less than the humanity have in common.


  1. Seeing the reference to Cry, The Beloved country took me back, that was our book for O'level in the 70s. all of the other forms in our school had The History of Mr Polly, i asked my teacher why we had Alan Patons book, His answer was -its one you must read sometime in your life so why not at school- glad i did

  2. Indeed an excellent book. A far better option than the one I had which was about Whaling in Antartica. More should be written about the non racial South African Liberal Party some of whose leaders were imprisoned on Robin Island. I do not mean to suggest that there contibution matched the ANC but they did stand up bravely against racism and attracted members across the 'racial spectrum' Alan Paton other books are also worth reading but sadly are hard to find.


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