The name on everyone’s lips

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There’s only one man in the news this morning, and quite rightly so.  I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t know the name Nelson Mandela and what it stood for.  

Back in the old days, there were two incontrovertible truths:  The Soviet Union held sway over a vast area of land behind the Iron Curtain, and South Africa was ruled by a government which upheld the ghastly principles of apartheid.  In the end, it was the Iron Curtain which came down first.

But when apartheid was finally swept aside and Nelson Mandela was elected president, what joy there was.  When I went to South Africa in 1995, it was like joining one nationwide party, and I remember standing in the middle of a group of black South Africans, and we all had our arms round one another in a huge embrace.  Black South Africans were exercising their new found freedom and visiting places which had previously been barred to them – in this case a beauty spot called the Three Rondavels.

Going back again, this time to the 1980s when I first came to London, there was one building in Trafalgar Square which was permanently cut off from the rest of the world, its occupants persistently ignoring the brave and determined band which maintained one long uninterrupted vigil outside it.  That vigil only came to an end when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

How different it was in 2005 when  Nelson Mandela came to Trafalgar Square to make a speech. Of course the square was crowded as everyone strained to see an already frail Mandela, wrapped up warm on a bitter March day.  But most moving by far was the view of South Africa House, its doors flung open and the staff standing out on the balcony in proud acknowledgement their former president.

RIP Nelson Mandela


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