Sky News’ coverage of the national celebrations in Soweto’s FMB stadium today is anchored by [white] Jeremy Thompson. As I left for work, a [white] woman was diving into the [black] dancing crowd with the usual ludicrous voxpop prompts. “Tell us why you’re here.” I found myself irritated that Sky hadn’t thought to post a black person to cover this event of all events. I laughed out loud when they grabbed a [black] soldier on security detail and asked him what Nelson Mandela meant to him. “He showed the whites the meaning of wisdom,” he said. The woman from the Sky hurried on.
There was a shot of David Cameron arriving. Day in the Commons. Arms fair in Beijing. Trumped-up Iraqi WMD-style invasion sabre rattling. Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Cameron manages that scrubbed Eton tie over the shoulder look whatever the situation. Behind him come a gaggle of Whitehall undead including John “Top Lip” Major and Gordon “Mad Cow” Brown. Global pre-eminences slipping into the security cordon include yellow-lensed meme-vampire Bono and the Spice Girls, for whom I can’t think of an ironic epithet. The US looks better, with the all-black presidential family getting off the plane ahead of the neo-teutonic George Bush II, his evil-looking father and their shrewd-eyed wives. Other genocidal luminaries include Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, and poor old Bobby Mugabe. I have the live stream running in a small window on my Mac as we speak, lest I miss the shot of Mr Black Magic himself––Tony Blair–– arriving.
While there is something awful about the armed guarded presence of these goons––all of whom could be reasonably accused of furthering projects ethically opposed to Mandela’s, we have to ask what would Madiba himself say to them? Information will have arrived in your Facebook stream about Cameron’s 1985 membership of Conservative Students, who produced the infamous “Hang Nelson Mandela” poster, and his role in the Tory Policy Unit, who in 1989 went on a sanctions-busting visit to PW Botha’s apartheid regime. This dirt from the past should hardly surprise you, of course. British toffs aren’t exactly known for their leanings towards genetic diversity [with the possible exception of Prince Harry].
But scroll back a bit and your Facebook stream will also inform you that when he was released, Mandela saw that if he didn’t leave his entirely justifiable bitterness and hatred behind he would be captive forever––held in that most portable, rubbery and persistent cage of all, the captivity of negativity.
Nelson ‘Rolihlahla’ Mandela was indeed named––Rolihlahla means ‘troublemaker’ in Xhosa––with foresight. We can––perhaps must––mention Cameron’s pro-Botha past and daylight robbery present. But if we are to change him we must for-give. We must examine ourselves and perhaps walk in his shoes before we cast any stones. Haven’t we got stuff wrong? Supported the ‘wrong’ side? Do we not require to be forgiven? Do we not in fact expect to be given space––distance between our past and our present––that we might be appraised anew, afresh? Is this not in fact what happens? Without this space, this for-giveness, how can things change?
I am not, to be sure, talking of erasing our past in the Orwellian sense currently in vogue at Tory HQ. I am not advocating wiping records of speeches and acts such that David Cameron and other luminaries may float in a mediatised now. We must all be held to account––as indeed we all are in the end––but this holding to account must not be that in which Muammar Ghadaffi and Saddam Hussein met their ends. What was achieved there? What was learned? What if Saddam’s reconciliation had become the prototype of a new process at The Hague? We would have been riveted to our screens as we watched him break down emotionally before bereaved families. We would have learned something from him. We would have learned something from those bereaved mothers and fathers who broke down with him and forgave him. We would have learned that vanquished and vanquisher are but two sides of the same coin.
This is the moral of the Mandela story. He could have led black South Africa into revolution and revenge, as Mugabe tried to do. Mandela’s vision was enlightened by his own suffering. He understood the turning of the great the wheel of karma.
Rest in peace, Tata Madiba. Thank you for the space you held for all of us. May we understand your example and have the strength to follow it. The strength to forgive.