Nelson Mandela the former South African president who was imprisoned for 27 years has died at the age of 95. Mandela spent much of his life campaigning to end the apartheid system in South Africa. This was the total separation of the black and white population which was responsible for the imprisonment and murder of thousands of black citizens. Laws were different depending on the colour of your skin and racism was rife.
Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 for sabotage a campaign begun. What I want to focus on was the reaction of the British, people and government, to his imprisonment. Mainly during the 1980s.
We cannot however allow history to be rewritten as many of those who are and have been in power would like. It is well expected of world leaders to talk of the achievements of someone who has changed the world. The same happened with Churchill and more importantly, Thatcher. “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” These were the words of the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1987. Throughout her time as Prime Minister the Tory party held the belief that Mandela was a terrorist we had Terry Dicks saying “How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?” and perhaps the most famous Teddy Taylor saying ‘Nelson Mandela should be shot’. So whilst David Cameron did apologise for the views of the government at the time for calling him a terrorist but not perhaps for his involvement that we will come to. The views of her government cannot simply be washed away with an “I’m sorry” and it is this legacy for me that I believe Mrs Thatcher took with her. Closer to home however, the Luton North MP at the time criticised the BBC for promoting Mandela as a ‘Christ like figure’ and in reality, Mandela was a Christ like figure, in the same way Christ was said to give his life for the human race and to liberate them of sin, Nelson Mandela was prepared to do the same and did give a significant amount of his life to liberate the human race from apartheid and racial segregation.
The public support for Mandela was phenomenal there had been little heard of the true horrors of his prison on Robben Island and the hard labour of crushing rocks, designed to crush the spirits. Upon his release in 1990 the world felt liberated already. The famous images of Mandela walking out of prison with his wife at the time Winnie Mandela waving to the crowds. The campaigns of the world seemed successful again and in the UK I a decade where strikes and campaigns by thousands of working people in the miner strike and the ‘poll tax’ riots which would happen shortly after his release the British people were thankful for some relief in such dark times.
To this day the British Conservative Party to me are the same party that supported the imprisonment on Mandela, opposed Tony Benn’s motion to condemn apartheid in South Africa and the party whose followers produced the ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ posters.
The liberator of South Africa, Nelson Mandela will never truly die. He has influenced millions of people and taught us that no matter how hard life gets. Never to give up.
R.I.P Nelson Mandela 1918-2013