Tribute to Nelson Mandela

I thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their perhaps over-generous remarks about my role. Let me simply underline that there were many tens of thousands of activists in the Anti-Apartheid Movement who deserve to be acknowledged as well.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your personal leadership in ensuring that this tribute debate is such a special event, as you said, for such a special person. I note that you are wearing the South African tie on this occasion. I specifically thank you—this is very important—for proposing, along with the Lord Speaker, Thursday afternoon’s Westminster Hall event for civil society including, importantly, veteran activists of the Anti-Apartheid Movement who worked so tirelessly over many tough and bitter decades both for Nelson Mandela’s release and for the sanctions against apartheid that he wanted and that ultimately triggered his freedom.

I have never really been into heroes but Nelson Mandela was mine from when I was a young boy in Pretoria and unique among my school friends and relatives in having parents who welcomed everybody to their house regardless of colour—activists in the anti-apartheid struggle. I remember that one fellow activist, Elliot Mngadi, remarked, “This is the first time I’ve ever come through the front door of a white man’s house.” Blacks acting as servants or gardeners might be allowed in the back door occasionally.

My mother, Adelaine, was often alone in the whites-only section of the public gallery at Nelson Mandela’s 1962 trial in Pretoria and when he entered the dock, he would always acknowledge her with a clenched fist, which she would return. His beautiful wife Winnie attended the trial each day, often magnificent in tribal dress. Once, when my tiny younger sisters went with my mother during a school holiday, Winnie bent down and kissed the two little blonde girls to the evident horror of the onlooking white policemen. A black woman kissing two little white children disgusted them.

Forty years later, I was escorting Nelson Mandela to speak at the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, but before that he had an appointment with the Prime Minister that had been very carefully scheduled. We were going down in the lift in the hotel and he said, “How’s the family?” I mentioned that my mother had broken her leg and was in hospital. “Ah,” he said, “I must phone her.” The Prime Minister was kept waiting while Nelson Mandela chatted to porters and cleaners and waitresses and waiters, all lined up as the minutes ticked by. I desperately tried directory inquiries to get her phone number, eventually got the ward and was put through. I said to her, “There’s a very special person who would like to speak to you,” and I handed the phone to him. He said, “This is Mandela from South Africa. Do you know who I am?”

Having been sentenced to five years on Robben Island after the Pretoria trial that my mother attended, Mandela was then brought back more than a year later, as has been mentioned, to be Accused No. 1 in the Rivonia trial, when, facing the death penalty and against the strong advice of his lawyer, he famously said:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

I remember reading those powerful words aged 14, trying to take in their full significance, and aware they were a great inspiration to my parents and all those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, as Nelson Mandela faced the death penalty. In fact, after worldwide pleas for clemency, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in July 1964, Mandela returned to Robben Island, not to be seen or heard in public again for nearly 26 years.

Two years later, in 1966, after my parents had been jailed, declared banned persons and deprived of earning a living, our family sailed past Robben Island and into exile here in Britain, and we will always be grateful for the welcome that we were given in this country. I remember looking out over the Cape rollers and imagining how Mandela and his comrades were surviving in that cold bleak cell. As an African, he was permitted 5 oz of meat daily, whereas coloureds were allowed 6 oz; he was permitted ½ oz of fat, and coloureds 1 oz: the evil precision of apartheid penetrated every nook and cranny of life, banning inter-racial sex as well as segregating park benches, sport, jobs, schools, hospitals, and much, much more. The apartheid state had hoped that, out of sight on the former leper colony of Robben Island, with its freezing cold waters that had devoured all escapees, Mandela would be out of mind, but the longer he was imprisoned, the bigger a global leader he became.

In July 1988, his 70th birthday became a global celebration, with a pulsating. “Free Mandela” anti-apartheid rock concert attended by 100,000 people at Wembley stadium and watched on live television by 600 million worldwide, despite—I say for the record, not out of any recrimination—some Conservative Members pressing the BBC to pull the plug on its coverage. Then, almost miraculously, something occurred that we had dreamed of, but deep down doubted would ever, ever happen—on that historic day in February 1990 Mandela walked out of prison to freedom, providing an image for ever imprinted on me and on millions, perhaps even billions, across the world. I say “almost miraculously” because history gets compressed and rewritten over time, and we take change for granted.

The reality was very different. Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom, and that of his African National Congress, was long and bitter, taking nearly 100 years from the days under British colonial rule when the roots of apartheid were established. Under Britain in 1900, 50 years before apartheid was formally institutionalised in South Africa, most of its features were already in place in the bustling gold-rush city of Johannesburg. By then, Africans were prevented from walking on the pavements—they had to walk on the streets—they had to carry “passes” to work in the city, they could not use buses and trains designated for whites, they were dreadfully exploited in the mines, and they had no political rights.

We all say in Britain that we were against apartheid, and doubtless we were, but some did things about it—others did not. The anti-apartheid struggle was for most of its life engaged in a big fight, here in Britain too. The executive secretaries of the Anti-Apartheid Movement—first, Ethel de Keyser, then Mike Terry—were indefatigable. Its chairman, Lord Bob Hughes, and treasurer, Richard Caborn—former Members of Parliament—were real stalwarts, along with Neil Kinnock and Glenys as well. Protests to stop whites-only Springbok tours provoked fierce anger. I remember them well: “Hain the pain”, as I recall. Some people might still feel that. Yet, as Nelson Mandela confirmed to me, the Springboks’ sporting isolation was a key factor in making whites realise that they had to change, so that today that wonderful black rugby star Bryan Habana can be a Springbok, whereas his predecessors under apartheid at the time that we were demonstrating never could.

Demands for trade and economic sanctions were also resisted, yet their partial implementation, regrettably not by London, but by Washington, eventually helped to propel the white business community in the late 1980s to demand change from the very same apartheid Government from whom they had so long benefited.

Mr Speaker, forgive me if, for a brief moment, I strike what I hope will not be seen as too discordant a note on this occasion, which sees the House at its very best, coming together to salute the great man. Were it not for interventions in the media in recent days, I would have let pass correcting the historical record. I give credit especially to you, Mr Speaker, for volunteering most graciously that you were on the wrong side of the anti-apartheid struggle as a young Conservative. I give credit to the Prime Minister for apologising for his party’s record of what I have to describe as craven indulgence towards apartheid’s rulers. And if Nelson Mandela can forgive his oppressors without forgetting their crimes, who am I not to do the same for our opponents in the long decades of the anti-apartheid struggle?

But it really does stick in the craw when Lord Tebbit, Charles Moore and others similar tried over recent days to claim that their complicity with apartheid—that is what I think it was—somehow brought about its end. To my utter incredulity, Lord Tebbit even told BBC World in a debate with me that they had brought about Mandela’s freedom. I know for a fact that Nelson Mandela did not think so. At every possible opportunity he went out of his way to thank anti-apartheid activists across the world for freeing him and his people.

It is therefore especially welcome that Nelson Mandela always retained an almost touching faith in British parliamentary democracy. Even though—I disagree with the interpretation by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)—over most of his life he was a believer in non-violent legal peaceful change. by force of circumstance—the suppression of his African National Congress’s non-violent campaign for over 60 years—he had to become a freedom fighter and to lead an underground campaign of guerrilla activity similar to the French resistance against the Nazis. Even when the majority in this Parliament, and the Government of the day, were not on his side, he still cherished our parliamentary democracy. I mention this because Mandela’s old foes became his new friends, his former adversaries his admirers. That was part, as others have said, of his greatness.

But that was Mandela the political leader. There was, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) remarked in his marvellous speech, another equally engaging side to his greatness. He had an infectious capacity for mischief. In London a few weeks after our marriage in 2003, I introduced my wife Elizabeth to him. “Is this your girlfriend?” he asked. When I replied: “No, she’s my wife”, he chuckled, “So she caught you then?” When Elizabeth, who can be somewhat feisty at times, exclaimed indignantly that she had taken a lot of persuading, he laughed, “That’s what they all say, Peter, but they trap you in the end!” By then she realised that he was teasing her and we all ended up laughing together. He had apologised earlier for not coming to our wedding, instead sending a message, which contained these impish words to us newly-weds: “But perhaps I will be able to come next time!”

It was not just his towering moral stature, his courage and capacity to inspire, that endeared Nelson Mandela to so many. Despite being one of the world’s most prominent statesmen—perhaps the most revered—he retained his extraordinary humanity. When he was with you, you had all his attention. When he greeted you, his eyes never wandered, even though you were surrounded by far more important people. Whether you were a mere child, a hotel porter, a cleaner, a waiter or a junior staff member, he was interested in you. And he never forgot a friend.

On the same occasion when Elizabeth met him in 2003, my parents were also present, enjoying a reunion. The conversation somehow turned to my ministerial driver, whom Mandela promptly summoned. “I was once a driver, too,” he told him as they shook hands, referring to the time in 1961-62 when he was on the run and went underground, dubbed the “Black Pimpernel”, often moving about the country dressed as a chauffeur, in order to invite no attention, with cap and uniform and his white “master” in the back, as was stereotypical in those days and so a good form of disguise.

An ordinariness combined with extraordinariness was not Mandela’s sole uniqueness. His capacity for forgiveness is what made him the absolutely critical figure, first during secret negotiations in the late 1980s from prison with the Afrikaner nationalist Government and then after his release, both in the transition and in healing a bitterly divided nation.

That brings me to his status. Gandhi, Kennedy and Churchill are all iconic figures, the last for his inspirational wartime leadership and the first two more for having been assassinated. Yet today ask almost anybody anywhere which global statesman they admire most, and “Nelson Mandela” will as likely as not be the answer. Other world figures are usually famous within their own professional disciplines, sections of society, interest groups or age groups. Many attract hostility, cynicism or plain indifference. Nelson Mandela’s unique achievement was to command fame, admiration and affection from virtually everyone, everywhere in the world.

So if, as I believe, he is more iconic than anybody else, why? His life story of sacrifice, courage, endurance and suffering in the great and noble cause of liberty, democracy and justice places him among a very select few: the Tolpuddle martyrs, Chartists, suffragettes, Gandhi himself, anti-colonial African leaders, Che Guevara, Lech Walesa, Solzhenitsyn and Aung San Suu Kyi, to name just some. But Mandela towers above them all in the popular imagination, perhaps in part because he was the first such figure to be projected to the world’s peoples through the powerful modern media of global television and the internet. He was quite simply far better known than any comparable figure.

Equally, however—this is the lesson I draw—he survived, and indeed prospered, even under the fierce media spotlight of 24-hour news, over-hype and spin. Uniquely, he remained untarnished and undiminished by that modern media beast’s unrivalled capacity for building up then knocking down, leaving him serenely above all its insatiable prurience and obsession for triviality and instant novelty. Where most political careers end in failure or opprobrium, Nelson Mandela’s continued to soar long after he stepped down as President.

Mandela’s greatness, his stature, derived not just from an extraordinary biography that dwarfs the rest of humankind; it came from the warm glow of humanity that he radiated, his common touch, humbleness, self-deprecation, humour and dignity. Prison could have embittered, adulation could have gone to his head and egotism could have triumphed. The clutching of the crowd and the intrusive pressures of the modern political age could have seen him retreat behind the barriers that most leaders and celebrities today erect around themselves, not necessarily through any fault of their own, but in part to retain some personal space, but the consequence of which all too often becomes either aloofness or insincerity and its companion, cynicism. But none of that happened to him. Throughout everything, Nelson Mandela remained his own man, neither seduced by the trappings of office, nor deluded by the adulation of admirers, always friendly and approachable. That is why, for me, he was the icon of icons, and perhaps always will be.

President Bill Clinton, who has such a wonderful way with words, said:

“Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room, we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we’d like to be him on our best day”.

Sadly, Nelson Mandela will not be walking into our rooms ever again, but we can all still strive to be like him on our best days. For, as he said in one of his many memorable proverbs:

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”

Why Britain needs South Africa


Under British rule in 1900, 50 years before apartheid was formally institutionalised in South Africa, most of its features were already in place in the bustling gold-rush city of Johannesburg: Africans were prevented from walking on pavements, had to carry “passes” to work in the city, could not use buses and trains designated for whites, were dreadfully exploited in the mines, and had no political rights. Even as late as the 1980s a British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was still siding with apartheid’s white oppressors, and denouncing Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”.

Now, with similar high-handed arrogance and contempt for those millions still suffering from the apartheid legacy originally bequeathed by Britain, the government is chopping its £19m aid programme to South Africa – itself a figure that has halved since it peaked at £40m under Labour. (By the way I checked, and South Africa was not consulted, simply informed. When asked why the rush, Justine Greening, the Conservative international development secretary, indicated on Tuesday to Pravin Gordhan, the South African finance minister on a visit to London, that she had to tell the electorate in advance of Thursday’s local elections).

Yet three-quarters of the world’s poor now live in “middle income” countries like South Africa – where, according to the World Bank, 7 million people are living on under $1.25 a day, and 15 million on under $2 a day. The United Nations reports that more than half of South Africa’s children still live in poverty. South Africa may be defined as middle income, but apartheid’s legacy is a population still divided between a wealthy – sometimes extremely wealthy – minority and a vast poor majority.

Greening blithely ignores this destitution – deepened by chronic rates of HIV/Aids and TB – in claiming that South Africa has made “enormous progress over the past two decades”. It is true that Mandela’s African National Congress has delivered electricity, water and sanitation to millions, built more than 3 million new houses, doubled the number at school and is spending more per head on education than almost any other country in the world – some schools financed by British aid.

Nevertheless horrendous levels of black unemployment remain, worsened by apartheid’s deliberate policy of ensuring that black people had no skills. A growing population, swelled by some 3 million migrantsfrom Mali to Zimbabwe, means the demand for basic services seems insatiable.

But let’s leave aside Britain’s historic responsibility for all this. Let’s ignore the view that insulting the South African government is small beer compared with its value as a dog whistle, on the eve of the local elections, to Tory voters the party fears are haemorrhaging to Ukip.

Let’s leave aside also the raids on Britain’s aid budget for defence and other purposes. And how even in the government’s own increasingly hard-nosed terms aid is once again becoming a tool of trade rather than an agency for tackling world poverty.

Purely out of self-interest this decision is catastrophic for Britain. South Africa, a key strategic partner, is the sole African member of the important Brics alliance, and is already turning to those countries, away from its traditional European trading links. In turn this threatens the gateway the country provides to vast African markets – where it has close ties of friendship and mutually beneficial trade and investment agreements. It offers a solid base from which companies, including Britain’s, can develop their operations across Africa.

And the continent is awakening, with huge growth rates especially compared with sclerotic Europe. Soon seven out of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies will be in Africa. If Britain wants to be part of that future, then being a respected partner of South Africa is key, accounting as it does for fully a fifth of total GDP for Africa – despite having a population of just 50 million in a continent of one billion.

Sadly it seems that the era when Britain under Labour could proudly lead the world in cancelling debt, conquering world poverty and establishing a funding mechanism for the millennium development goals, is now over.

BBC TV: From Sharpeville To Marikana

Paul Trewhela

BBC television screened a major documentary in Britain on Wednesday night, “South Africa: The massacre that changed a nation”, with a quite exceptional political reach across more than 50 years: from the massacre at Sharpeville in 1960 to the massacre at Marikana last year.

That grim framework from one massacre by armed police to another – from the apartheid state under the rule of the National Party to present-day South Africa, after nearly 20 years of ANC government – from black-and-white to colour, in documentary footage  – received a thread of continuity from its presenter, a former British cabinet minister whose parents had been banned activists of the long defunct Liberal Party of South Africa in Pretoria, where he grew up.

Peter Hain – chairman in 1969 and 1970 of the Stop the Tour campaign in Britain against cricket and rugby matches played against teams from apartheid South Africa, and today a veteran Labour Party MP, with a constituency in a former mining area in Wales – travelled across South Africa’s social, racial and geographical spectrum. He interviewed high and low, from President Jacob Zuma in green official gardens to the mother of a slain Marikana miner, destitute on a hilltop in the Eastern Cape.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke affectionately recalled bars of chocolate which Hain’s mother, Adelaine, had brought him every day while he was a youngster awaiting trial, before serving his ten-year term on Robben Island – the site of another interview, with Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia Trial co-accused, Ahmed Kathrada.

A survivor of the shootings at Marikana on 16 August last year was counterposed with a senior executive of Lonmin, and both counterposed with Julius Malema giving forth about poverty and nationalisation on his own luxurious green lawn.

“My husband was killed by the ANC”, said the widow of a Marikana miner.

“The media exaggerates”, said President Zuma, as he explained (and explained away) his Nkandla estate, professing ignorance of its actual costs. The difficulty at Marikana, regrettable as it was, had been “provoked.” (As a journalist explained: the president’s new Secrecy Law, more terrible than anything under apartheid, was his solution to the nuisance caused to him by others).

“White monopoly capital” collaborating with the ANC state, said Julius Malema, adding that the government had no clear idea about how to “resolve the two economies”, of those in the abyss and those enjoying the good life in Sandton.

“It looked like the ANC turned its guns on its own people,” reflected Peter Hain, who 48 years ago as a 15-year-old delivered the memorial address which his parents were barred from giving themselves, after their family friend John Harris was hanged in Pretoria Central prison for the Johannesburg station bomb of the previous July, which killed an old woman and maimed many others. His parents’ friend, Jill Wentzel, author of The Liberal Slideaway and veteran champion of the Black Sash, sitting in the same courtroom, recalled the grim face of the hanging judge on the day of sentencing.

Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press, spoke of corruption, while Ronnie Kasrils – ex-minister in both Nelson Mandela’s and Thabo Mbeki’s governments, and former head of military intelligence in Umhonto we Sizwe in exile – spoke of a “comprador class” of black tenderpreneurs which had become attached to the structures of white-owned capital, resulting, he said, in “crisis.”

Guided by associate producer Sue Cullinan, the programme provided as sharp and accurate a survey of South Africa’s great historic conflicts and their only very limited resolution as any likely to be seen.

But between the denialism of the President (looking and sounding very uncomfortable) and the demagogic mirage of a statist heaven asserted by a very comfortable Mr Malema, there was no leadership.


South Africa: a crisis for business over social reform


I was recently in South Africa to make a film for the BBC, and everyone thought the horrific police massacre of striking miners – 34 killed and 78 injured – at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine last August was a watershed for the country. It seemed to symbolise the unresolved legacy of apartheid: a wealthy white-owned corporation pitted against its poor black workers. Lonmin took me underground to observe its awesomely impressive hi-tech operation.  More than 30,000 are employed in a complex of mine shafts and smelters stretching across 250 sq km, producing nearly a quarter of all the world’s platinum, and part of a mining industry that contributes a vital fifth of South Africa’s economic output.

Yet in the shadow of the mine, most of its migrant workers live in Wonderkop, a sprawling shanty settlement of 40,000 people with no running water, no proper electricity, no sewage – families in unspeakable poverty. I saw even more destitute circumstances 700 miles south near Mandela’s birthplace in the Transkei, home to the widow of one murdered strikers, their extended family income suddenly destroyed.   It was hard to see how two decades of democracy had made any improvement to their living standards.

Under apartheid, government and big business were run exclusively by the white minority. When white rule finally came to an end, the fear was that white businesses and investors would flee. Instead a deal was struck. Mandela’s extraordinary leadership and insistence on reconciliation ensured a peaceful transition toward a stable multiracial democracy. Big business was reassured and stayed. A black majority now ran the government but the white minority still ran the economy. This deal could not have been otherwise or the emergence of the joyous “rainbow nation” would never have occurred.

But it is a deal now in crisis. Companies like Lonmin have brought black South Africans into their management – they recently appointed a black African CEO, Ben Magara. A new black business elite has been empowered– even creating some black billionaires. In return the ANC-aligned trade unions have tried to ensure strike-free production, with some of their leaders also part of the new enriched black elite.

The arrangement met the requirements of global investor confidence, but left most workers on low wages and, at Marikana, their ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers – a pillar of the anti-apartheid struggle – lost rank and file credibility to a breakaway union. Negotiations collapsed and violence soon followed, the ANC appearing to turn its guns on its own people with dreadful echoes of apartheid.

Marikana has become an emblem of what ANC critics say is a cosy deal with white-run business at the expense of South Africa’s poor –  triggering grassroots disaffection worsened by local and national ANC leader corruption. Simply co-opting a black elite into the same unequal, white controlled economy is not sustainable. But can necessary economic reform to give all a much greater stake be achieved without jeopardising competitive realities and global investor confidence?

Many of South Africa’s fundamentals are still strong: a constitutional democracy, an independent judiciary and above all a strong and vocal civil society. It has a wealthy economy, with a transparent, well regulated legal and financial structure, accounting for fully a fifth of total GDP for Africa – with a population of 50 million in a continent of 1 billion. Now a member of the Brazil-Russia-India-China Brics nations, it is ideally placed to be the gateway for fast rising African economic growth.

The ANC has brought electricity, housing, water and sanitation to millions. Nevertheless a growing population, swelled by some three million immigrants from Mali to Zimbabwe, means the demand for basic services seems insatiable. There are horrendous levels of black unemployment, worsened by apartheid’s deliberate policy of ensuring blacks had no skills. Despite the ANC doubling the numbers at school, teachers who take great pride in high standards then despair when their bright, well qualified pupils cannot get either appropriate, or any, jobs.

Carefully thought-out ANC pro-poor economic policies, with a lot of money spent on development plans, are intended to make a difference, but there is a chronic lack of government capacity and delivery – further hindered by political and administrative corruption.

The economy has hardly changed from its old role: to deliver for just 9% of the population – except that this now includes a new black element. There seem to be only two options: the one is to develop a new social compact where privilege and reward is renegotiated in favour of a more equal dispensation. The other is to face a revolution of rising expectations and frustration where South Africa could once again become as ungovernable as it was during the dog years of apartheid.

These are stark choices – but some within the ANC are seriously rethinking the model they inherited. Charismatic national trade union leader Zwelinzima Vavi has talked about the country’s “Lula” moment. There is plenty of evidence, not only that Brazil has done a great deal to narrow the gap between rich and poor nations, but also that South Africa’s economic thinkers are preparing to use some of the same strategies.

The ANC’s Strategic Intervention in the Minerals Sector (Sims) report, adopted at its December policy conference, looks at some of Brazil’s financial planning, like borrowing from the insurance/pensions sector and using state-owned enterprises to promote social development – which the private sector does not automatically do .

The ANC is trying out something crucial to those who want an alternative to the predominant global neoliberal economic model. But simultaneously maintaining essential international investor confidence and promoting social justice is difficult enough in a society like Britain, let alone South Africa with an apartheid legacy which remains a gigantic millstone around the country’s neck.

Marikana mine massacre casts long shadow


South Africa changed irrevocably when apartheid was abolished and the African National Congress came to power. But in an emotional return to the country of his youth, the British MP and former government minister Peter Hain came face to face with the bitter legacy of last year’s shootings at the Marikana mine.

It was a moving homecoming.

I returned to my old school where in Pretoria, in my day in the early 1960s, apartheid decreed it was for whites only. This time, I witnessed blacks and whites, friends and students together.

I interviewed an old comrade of my anti-apartheid parents in the Supreme Courtroom, where Nelson Mandela had been on trial for his life in 1964 and where that same year a close family friend had been sentenced to death.

The emotional turmoil of those grim apartheid years coming flooding back.

I met Dikgang Moseneke who told me how, as a frightened 15-year-old on a treason charge, my mother Adelaine had comforted him by bringing him a bar of his cherished chocolate every day – until he was sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island.

He is now South Africa’s acclaimed Deputy Chief Justice.

I was thrilled to witness multi-racial cricket played at Cape Town’s international arena, Newlands, Table Mountain majestic behind.

After my parents were forced to leave in 1966 for exile in Britain, I led protests in the UK to disrupt all-white South African rugby and cricket tours.

Then I could only hope and believe that this would bring about change – here at Newlands was the proof, visible all around me.

After Nelson Mandela walked to freedom from 27 years in prison, later to lead his country, he began a process of joyous transformation from evil and bitterness.

South Africa today is an amazing and beautiful country to visit, with an infectious spirit of energy and liberation.

But I was dismayed to find rampant corruption – and bitter resentment directed towards the African National Congress which freed the country but whose leaders are now widely accused, by their own supporters, of self-enrichment.

And one word came up time and again: “Marikana”.

Last August’s terrible police massacre of striking black miners – killing 34 and injuring 78 – symbolises a crisis facing the country.

At Lonmin’s Marikana Platinum mine north-west of Johannesburg, I heard shocking stories of cold-blooded executions and torture – reminiscent of some of the worst atrocities of apartheid.

Lawyers representing families of the dead and injured told me, on the margins of an official Commission of Inquiry, that the massacre seemed pre-planned. This is denied by the police and Lonmin.

At least under the country’s vibrant multi-racial democracy the truth will come out whereas under apartheid, barbarity was invariably covered up.

But it was still shocking to hear a white police ballistics expert confirm to the inquiry that the machine guns used against the defenceless miners were “weapons of war”.

It was equally chilling to read a letter sent on 13 August 2012 – three days before the massacre – from Lonmin to the Minister of Mines, asking for the full force of the state to be brought to bear on the strikers.

I put this to the CEO of Lonmin, Simon Scott, who denied it was an appeal for violence.

The Marikana Commission will have to decide whether the killings were premeditated.

But no wonder the widows and their lawyers saw events as sinister, not simply tragic.

Walking amid rows of macabre white crosses to mark the dead, I concluded that Marikana was indeed a turning point, as former ANC government minister and struggle leader Ronnie Kasrils told me.

“I believe it’s an actual watershed which the ruling party needs to understand. I feel that we have lost our way to quite a degree,” he said.

“South Africa’s got to re-think its economic position. If we can’t find a way to deal with the needs of the workers of this country we are… facing [a] crisis.”

Not only was it horrific, but the clash between the London Stock Exchange-listed company and its poor black workers suggests that – although democracy came with human rights entrenched for all – the inequalities of apartheid are unchanged.

A new, black elite has been co-opted into the white business establishment – a few even becoming billionaires.

Lonmin has just appointed a black African Chief Executive, Ben Magara. But the fundamentals of an economy run for a 9% white minority seem unreformed.

The ANC government of President Zuma has a mountain to climb – apartheid bequeathed to Mandela and his followers a harsh inheritance.

Insatiable demand for new housing means nobody could have expected enough homes to be built – though fully three million have been.

Nobody could have imagined that education could have been totally transformed from serving whites only – though the number of black children at school has doubled.

Millions have also received running water and electricity under the ANC.

Yet so much more could have been achieved if corruption hadn’t become almost institutionalised, blocking proper delivery of vital services.

And this, I discovered, is what is breeding daily and country-wide community protests, in which two million people were involved last year.

Frustration recently erupted into violence at Marikana and in the stunning wine-producing valleys of the Western Cape where I also travelled.

But despite everything, I am optimistic. This is still a country with enormous natural resources, good infrastructure and long established administrative mechanisms.

Whatever the failings of its local and national leaders, most ANC policies remain admirable.

The spirit of Mandela remains strong despite his grave frailty. There is a fine constitution entrenching freedoms. Importantly, there is a vociferous parliamentary opposition and independent pressure groups demanding civil liberties, transparency and honest government.

And above all for me personally, the rainbow nation is still an inspirational star compared with the depravity and brutality of apartheid.