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In solidarity, for liberty

9 December 2013

Our Honorary Co-President Glenys Kinnock remembers Nelson Mandela and the work of the anti-apartheid movement 

I have been privileged to have met Nelson Mandela on several occasions, and have been inspired by him and marvelled at his strength and courage. I am also proud to report that he poured a cup of tea for me at his home in Soweto soon after his release. And I have been hugged by him!

Glenys with Madiba

From the 1960s to the end of the 1980’s in the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), we struggled with the idea that apartheid could be overcome peacefully. But we knew that it would eventually end as a political system, leaving in its wake the misery and suffering it had created. We watched from afar those barricades of burning tyres and the street battles fought in the townships by unarmed youngsters against a well armed and brutal police force set upon destroying black opposition.

It is indeed regrettable that the AAM did not enjoy the support of the UK government, or the Prime Minister of the day. However, I do believe that the world is a better place because of the solidarity that was shown with those South Africans seeking justice and freedom. And Mandela himself very publicly emphasised the contribution made by those efforts to isolate the apartheid state.In desperation Nelson Mandela advocated and engaged in the armed resistance in the early 1960’s, but it was he who insisted upon peace and reconciliation when the white minority eased its grip on power 30 years later. I joined the AAM in that same decade. Through every form of persuasion – from letters to newspapers to mass picketing and demonstrations, to rugby and cricket pitch invasions – the movement was able to play a part in shifting public opinion, and in exposing the apartheid regime as an international pariah.

As we now mourn the man who challenged the might of white minority apartheid and forged a new rainbow nation after 27 years in prison, we are again realising how much respect and affection he has earned across the world. He was much loved and will be missed. Not least by his beloved wife Graca Machel, of whom Nelson himself said made him “bloom like a flower”.

When, as the first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa, Mandela spoke to the joint Houses of Parliament in July 1996, he said:

‘We are in the Houses in which Harold Macmillan worked – he who spoke in our Houses of Parliament in Cape Town in 1960 shortly before the infamous Sharpeville Massacre and warned a stubborn and race blinded white oligarchy in our country that “the wind of change is blowing through this continent”, South African cartoonists paid tribute to him by having him recite other Shakespearean words – “Oh pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”’

“We have come as friends”, Mandela said, “to all the people of the native land of the Archbishop Trevor Huddleston who, in his gentle compassion for the victim, resolved to give no quarter to any butcher.” He went on, “Archbishop Trevor’s sacrifices for our freedom in, South Africa, told us that the true relationship between our people was not one  between poor citizens on the one hand and good patricians on the other hand, but one underwritten by our common humanity and our human capacity to touch one another’s hearts across the oceans.”

No one could have articulated the great cause of liberty and solidarity better. And no one did.

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