While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

by Joe Walker, LCID Vice-Chair, Policy

They came in their thousands, defying the African summer rain storm, to celebrate, remember and honour the man who had led the struggle for all South African’s freedom. But amongst the tributes from world leaders, there was one speaker, regarded as a ‘son of Africa’ and the most powerful leader in the world, who captured the mood and man who he described as ‘giant of history’ who would “emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.” In his address President Obama said “His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life. Your freedom and your democracy was his cherished legacy.”  

Mandela was an emblem of freedom, reconciliation, justice and hope, but he was also a rebel, freedom fighter and political leader. He was instinctively a politician who was able to bring with his political calculation a level of integrity, but his humanity always shone through that inspired a new generation to act on behalf of justice and peace and uphold a belief that the world really could be changed.  

Gordon Brown, in his tribute in parliament on Monday said that Mandela himself had written that he had climbed one mountain to end apartheid, but now in his later life he wanted to climb another great mountain to rid the world of poverty, and especially child poverty.  Mandela often spoke about the oppressed; he spoke for the oppressed, the poor and marginalised in South Africa, but believed in the liberation of all humanity. In 2005 at the launch of the Make Poverty History campaign in London, Mandela said “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural, it is man-made and can be eradicated and overcome by the actions of human beings.” Mandela knew full well that the political liberation of South Africa’s people was just the beginning, and until poverty and inequality was eradicated and people’s human dignity was fully restored, the full fruits of freedom could not be fully realised.  

Coming out of retirement to champion the cause of global poverty must be seen as one of Mandela’s enduring legacies. Just as the Labour Party stood in solidarity with the people of South Africa in the struggle against apartheid, so we should now as a party and a movement stand up for global justice, equality and peace. In his tribute in Soweto yesterday, Obama’s challenge to the world was this, “There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.”  We must pick up the batton and pledge ourselves to continue Mandela’s legacy, for he was the man that taught is that no injustice can last forever. Mandela’s words to the assembled crowd in Trafalgar Square in London in 2005 ring true today as they did then: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up”.

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