Nelson Mandela – the world holds its breath

Saturday 29th June

I am writing this on Friday morning so it is quite possible that it is over by the time you will read this, but for now the wait goes on.  Nelson Mandela is dying – there is little doubt about that.  Almost alone he stands as the greatest man of the last century.  And there have been several greats; Gandhi, Churchill and Kennedy among them.

So what is so special about Nelson Mandela.

I can remember first hearing his name back in the late seventies, along with Steven Biko as one of the freedom fighters in the then white ruled South Africa.  But for ages I knew nothing really about him.  Gradually the news filtered out, that he was the imprisoned leader of the ANC, the black political movement which was calling for democracy and by inference black majority rule in that huge and diverse country.

We had records ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and a huge concert ‘The Nelson Mandela Birthday Party’   But he was still in jail, for forty years.  And Thatcher called him a terrorist, so too incidentally did a young David Cameron.  But still he was in jail.  There was growing pressure both inside and outside South Africa to release him.  Then amazingly and suddenly he was released, on his own terms and he swept to power at the subsequent first and free elections.

But his real power was in what he said.  In a stumbling high pitched voice he called for peace and reconciliation and no retribution, no vengeance, just learning to get along with each other.

And by and large he was successful.  He is now lauded by South Africans of all races and colours.  Incredibly South Africa made the transition from Apartheid and brutal white rule to an increasingly open and fair society.  There is still a long way to go before the blacks are really equal to the whites, but they are getting there.  And it is all down to one man who s now dying in a hospital in Pretoria.  The great Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela, en 2008.