Mandela

I’ve got mixed feelings about writing this because it’s kind of morbid but at the same time it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last day, so figure its probably worth writing about.

I worked yesterday, which was a drag because it meant while I did get to watch the Wales vs England match, I didn’t get to fully enjoy it and I missed out on a night out with my mates. Making it worse though was the fact that I actually went into Swansea due to work and could see how buzzing town was, which highlighted what I was missing out on. Full, packed bars, that kind of cheerful, friendly matchday atmosphere and hot girls dressed in rugby shirts. IForget air hostesses, for me one of the sexiest items of clothing a woman can wear is a Welsh rugby shirt.

I rest my case

Anyway, as bummed out as I was I was also kind of nervous about something else. In the morning I’d caught the news that Nelson Mandela had been admitted to hospital. Illogically I thought “oh, I hope he’s okay and doesn’t die”, which if you think about it is a daft thought to have about anyone, because even if they do survive this particular event they’re going to die anyway, especially when its a 93 year old, which is a good innings in anybody’s book.

But on a purely emotional level, I think Mandela’s death will probably effect me more than Whitney Houston’s or any other famous person who’s died in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the wrestler Eddie Guerrero, who due to a combination of booze and a montage soundtracked by Johnny Cash’s “Hurt, reduced me to tears at uni.

RIP Eddie

Anyway, I’m straying off point, back to Mandela.

See, if Mandela was to pass it would be a sad event, for pretty much my entire life he has been an inspiring, iconic presence.

Mandela shortly after his release

I remember hearing about him as a kid, when apartheid was winding down but still covered a lot on Newsround and the grown up news I’d occasionally catch snippets of. I think my mum and dad probably talked about it and explained what it was to me, and I remember thinking it was horrible and unfair, although I doubt at the time I understood the true awfulness of the regime. I think I probably looked at it with childish simplicity, and thought how bad it was that several of my childhood heroes would have been treated badly in the country- Mr T, Dave Benson Phillips and Winston from The Ghostbusters.

Mandela’s release was a big deal, as was his election to President and the optimism that seemed to fill South Africa as it faced a new, freer future. I dimly remember the 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in the country and symbolising the rest of the world making piece with the world and South Africa’s new, united identity.

I know that South Africa didn’t turn into utopia overnight and that there are serious issues in the country, but for a while in the mid 90s hopes were high, and it must surely be better than living under an injust, violent and discriminatory policy.

I studied apartheid at GCSEs and it was fascinating, in a horrible kind of way. The cold, ruthless efficiency that it was installed and run with, the horrific human rights abuses, tragic events like Sowetto and the West’s slow response in condemning it, all of this made for an interesting topic of study.

And in the centre was Mandela, this figure of the resistance, a terrorist/freedom fighter who due to his long imprisonment on Robben Island became this iconic symbol for the whole fight back. Studying while behind bars and moving away from his violent routes, a powerful image of the unfair system in place.

Then he was released and emerged as a dignified, charismatic leader of his people. There seemed to be no bitterness, although there must have been on some level, more just a drive to see a more just system put in place.

Nelson Mandela, was one of the most famous and important figures of the 20th century, and a man of great historical importance. As I’ve said, for me he was a constant presence for much of my life, and a personal hero, his book The Long Walk To Freedomhas been high on my “to read” list for years.

Must get round to reading this at some point

Essentially, what I’m saying is who could not see the news of Mandela and not send out positive vibes for the man to recover?

Well, I’ll tell you who. A 25 year old who asked me “Who’s that?”.

Twenty-effing-five. One year younger than me and they had no idea who Mandela was or why the news was making such a big deal about it.

I attempted to explain his importance and resist the urge to slap them.

It totally stunned me, as I said, for me, Mandela was a large figure on the political landscape for much of my life and a person of importance and worthy of respect, yet someone a mere year younger than me was ignorant and indifferent with regards to him.

Is it because of my upbringing? I think it must have been. My parents are educated middle class types and my Dad in particular was quite political, a member of Amnesty International and someone who had probably followed the Mandela story for years.

They watch the news a lot, my Mum is a news junkie, aside from a few crime shows I think the only thing she watches regularly is the News, and BBC News is often the channel the TV is on when you switch on. So of course I’d hear about stuff like this.

My parents also were patient and would answer questions from me and my sisters, I’d probably have asked about apartheid and Mandela and they’d probably explained and discussed it with me.

It boggles my mind that there are parents who wouldn’t. I know there are people who don’t follow the news, and I can kind of understand it, although again, I think my upbringing has effected me and I do like to keep abreast of current affairs.

But as a parent I think you have to be someone who can educate your children. You’re not going to know everything, but its you who they’ll come to with questions, so at the very least you should try and explain as much as you can or look up with them about things.

If I ever have kids, I’m going to try and make sure I do my best to educate them about stuff. I’ll shell out money for encyclopedias so I can look stuff up with them when my own knowledge fails and attempt to ensure that they are aware of the world around them. I’m not saying I’m going to make them sit down and watch the news everyday and drill them on the situation in the Middle East, but I think they should have some idea of what’s going on.

This is where Newsround really worked, as it gave me a fairly simple introduction to things like the Bosnian War, apartheid and other news events that were going on in my youth. But if it left gaps I had my parents to go to for more information and to answer any questions.

Its one of the things I’m most grateful to them for, and while our views on many things are different, I do believe that they’re liberalism is a key part in my own political and moral outlook.

If I ever have kids I’m going to try and do the same, and hope to be a source of information and inspiration to Shane/Samantha and Nathan/Victoria.

Also, I have to admit, part of the reason I really didn’t want Mandela to die was because I was in work and knew it would be hours until I had a chance to send an e-mail to Rich in our morbid “Messenger of death” game, and I’m fairly sure that this time Rich would know who I was talking about.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO

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3 Comments on “Mandela”

  1. Crap, Mandela went in the hospital. I fear this is worse than you though. I’ve heard and read stories about the situation in South Africa. It’s bad. Mandela is about the only thing keeping it from turning into a full blown race war, and apparently there’s already at least one charismatic leader down there calling for the annihilation of the European South Africans. The hate crimes have been going on the rise already. If Mandela dies…I dread to think of what will happen.

    It’s days like these I wish I hadn’t studied history, because it gives me too good an idea of what is going to happen.

    Still, as you said, always best to be informed.

  2. Greate post. Keep writing such kind of information on your site.
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  3. […] it on Newsround, the kids news bulletin. I’ve already written a post on this blog about how Nelson Mandela was a massive figure on the landscape of my childhood, and I remember the optimism you felt from […]


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