In the days of the Apartheid regime I used to say that the only way you would ever get me to go to South Africa would be if I could drive a tank over the border from Angola as part of a massive military exercise to liberate the non-white people from the evil racial segregation that gripped their land.
Nelson Mandela was buried today. Of the ninety five years that he lived he spent many of them fighting for democracy in his country and freeing it from discrimination on the grounds of both race and gender, an ideal for which he said he was prepared to die. He spent twenty seven of his years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government with violence. But during his incarceration he became an international symbol of the struggle against Apartheid. Worldwide pressure on the South African government became so intense that in 1990 they released him and lifted the ban on his party, the African National Congress (ANC) which he soon became the leader of.
Speaking of his release he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” Without any need for violence he went on to become the country’s first democratically elected president, so me and my tank weren’t required.
To be truthful, I haven’t even got a tank, and neither do I have bitterness or hatred. If me and Nelson can do it, why can’t a few more people be like this? World leaders in particular!
Since his death ten days ago the entire world has been pouring out messages of admiration, respect and condolence for this great man.
Ordinary people from all corners of the planet at the very least appreciated the incredible things he achieved but few could talk about him without mentioning his warmth, his smile, his humour, his generosity, his dignity and his humility. As I listened on the radio to the almost blanket coverage of his life and death, every single person who had met him had a glowing tale to tell, making me wish so desperately that I had met him myself.
Many of the messages from politicians and statesmen were sincere but also the word ‘bandwagon’ sprang to mind as I have listened to the words of some who had little to do with him and even some who had denounced him as a terrorist in the past.
At his funeral service today the words of one man caught my attention. Ahmed Kathrada seemed to me to be the only speaker there who was genuinely moved by Madiba’s passing. Sentenced to life imprisonment at the same time in 1964 he had truly been an inspiration to him throughout his life and his struggle. He ended a speech filled with emotion saying, “Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader." I felt for this heartbroken man like I have felt for no other person in the last few days and I admired him more than any other too.
I don’t ask for much but when I die I hope that a few people might say, “He wasn’t a bad bloke that Terry” and if I can leave this world thinking that I have made even something approaching one billionth of the impact that Nelson Mandela made I will be a happy man.
Another one of my heroes is Lucas Radebe, the former captain of both Leeds United and the South African national football team. Surrounded by dignitaries at the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela pointed to Radebe and said, “This is my hero.”
What must it be like to have been described as being the hero of the greatest man to have lived during my lifetime? What must it be like to have been a hero at all?
The Chief & Madiba.