It is impossible to not think back over the life of Nelson Mandela on hearing of his death. My own involvement with South Africa goes back 45 years or more to the time when I was a teenager and a fledgling activist looking for good causes to support. South Africa was a place we knew very little about because it was an embarrassing secret to so called western democracies that were up to their elbows in it through investments. Slave Labour is one of the purest forms of capitalism there is and that was what provided the rich investment opportunities. It also provided a great standard of living with well paid jobs and all you had to do to get your share of this was to have a white skin. The whole stinking edifice was held together by that most inhuman brutal system called Apartheid, unparalleled in its evil and depravity.
That so many seemingly nice decent people, (relatives anyone?) Yes it’s a horrible admission isn’t it, were able to go there and make themselves a comfortable living is a horrible reminder of how frail our human condition really is. The Jewish Americam writer Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “The banality of evil” to describe Adolph Eichman when reporting his trial for war crimes and that sums up South Africa under white supremacist rule as they enjoyed the wages and lovely houses provided by the black population who were treated like beasts of burden. Now of course we see the disgusting spectacle of those who wanted Mandela not only to lose but to be executed declaring their admiration for him. Head of that list is the revolting and amoral Margaret Thatcher who declared him a terrorist and vehemently opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa while conveniently forgetting to mention that her equally wretched husband Dennis had considerable sums of money invested in that corrupt and evil system, as did churches, The city and pillars of our superior society. Cameron was also an enthusiastic opponent of Sanctions as was Tebbit and the rest of them, a more thoroughly dishonest and revolting bunch would be hard to find in history’s pages.
To take on these circumstances and triumph was one of history’s greatest achievements and it is true in my opinion to say that without Mandela it would not have been done. His courage and dignity were quite amazing and he rightly became recognised as one of the greatest leaders in history. He was the mighty indestructible presence in the background as we marched and demonstrated and sometimes blundered our way through the Anti Apartheid struggle, I wonder how many times the South African White Supremacists must have bemoaned the fact that they did not just kill him when they had the chance. He became too big to kill and too well known to slip on the soap and fall down stairs in prison nor would the world believe a tale of suicide in prison, he became more powerful than those who jailed him. He was the inspiration for us and millions around the world. Glasgow was the first place to grant him freedom of the city, something to be proud of. I took my daughter Clare to see him in George Square as he thanked Glasgow for its unstinting support over the years, we were both young enough for me to lift her on to my shoulder to see him speak and then delight the crowd with an impromptu display of singing and dancing a precious memory for us both, as a delirious crowd embraced him while mother Glasgow poured down its relentless gentle rain, a memory she still talks about. He is quite simply irreplaceable but for South Africa there is no going back, the racist beast has been slain and so it must stay. There will be plenty of struggles ahead but they will win in the end and, as the legendary murdered American union man Joe Hill said “don’t mourn me, organize” Madiba would agree with that sentiment.