Nelson Mandela’s legacy: what next for my beloved South Africa?

“I wanted to welcome my friend, Peter Hain,” he told the waiting media, generous to a fault. “He was a noted supporter of our freedom struggle, and we thank him for that. Except for the anti-apartheid movement, I might not be standing here, a free man today, and our people would not be free.”

It was a proud moment for me, standing alongside the global giant who inspired such universal affection and admiration.

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Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid Movement


“Ah, Peter, return of the prodigal son!” Nelson Mandela beamed, welcoming me to his Johannesburg home in February 2000.

Although on an official government visit, in a sense I was also being welcomed to my “home” – to South Africa, the panoramic, sunshine country of my childhood, as the first-ever British minister for Africa to be born on that continent.

Almost to the day, 10 years before, many of us had watched, tears welling up, as he had walked to freedom after 27 years in prison. And a long time before that – in March 1966 – I was a teenager aboard an ocean liner steaming out of Cape Town, past Robben Island where Mandela and his fellow leaders of the African National Congress were jailed. My anti-apartheid activist parents had been forced to leave their beloved country and the “island from hell” disappeared in the stormy mist as we headed for exile in Britain.

People forget how tough it was then, how hard the struggle was to be for decades afterwards. The resistance had been closed down, leaders such as Mandela imprisoned, tortured, banned or forced underground.

Within a few years, Mandela had almost been forgotten. British diplomats dismissed the ANC and Mandela as a busted flush. The white racist police state seemed omnipotent.

But in Britain, the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) had kept the flame of freedom flickering. Soon it was lit by our militant protests, which stopped white South African rugby and cricket tours in 1969-70. The country had been forced into global sporting isolation.

On Robben Island, brutal white warders, all fanatical rugby fans, vented their fury on Mandela and his comrades at the ostracism of the mighty Springboks, unwittingly communicating a morale-boosting message through the news blackout.

Barclays Bank was forced to withdraw from South Africa – a humiliation in the face of the AAM’s “boycott Barclays” campaign, which saw student protests against the bank signing up new customers during university freshers’ weeks Then in 1976 Soweto exploded as black school students took to the streets and were mown down by police and soldiers. Townships across the country erupted. Resistance grew, bursting through repression until in the 1980s it had gathered an unstoppable momentum: the economy teetered and businessman panicked.

By then Nelson Mandela’s name adorned anti-apartheid banners and placards the world over. An almost mystical, even forgotten, figure slowly became a household name, and soon the heroic symbol of the freedom struggle.

Fear struck the white ruling elite to the point where in February 1985 they tried to bribe Mandela with his freedom if he denounced the ANC’s militant resistance. He flatly refused to be freed if his people were not freed also.

Margaret Thatcher still denounced him as a “terrorist” but history was sweeping such reactionary sentiment aside. In 1988, the Anti-Apartheid Movement organised a great “Free Mandela” concert that filled Wembley stadium to bursting. Steve Wonder flew in. George Michael, Sting, Dire Straits, Eurythmics and a host of other stars defied rightwing Tory backbenchers trying to pull the plug on BBC2’s live broadcast as more than 600 million watched worldwide.

Finally, the regime had to treat with him, first by tentative overtures in prison, then by open negotiation. His oppressors had to seek Mandela’s help to save the country descending into chaos and civil war.

And he had long prepared for that opportunity, was always convinced it would come one day. Long years in prison turned him from burly, pushy freedom fighter into wise, almost saintly, statesman, able to heal a bitterly divided people.

I found myself alone with him in Johannesburg on the eve of his election as president in April 1994. Aged 76, he was tranquillity personified. “Peter, I suppose I should be jumping for joy. But I just feel a stillness. There is so much responsibility, so much to do.”

That humility, selflessness and absence of ego endeared him to everyone. Rarely for a celebrity he remained a people’s person, with time to chat to a hotel waiter or cleaner even as he kept a president or prime minister waiting.

The icon of all international icons – one of the very greatest figures of the 20th century – Mandela found world leaders of all political shades queuing up for photo-calls; when he addressed both Houses of Parliament, I spotted Mrs Thatcher scurrying down the aisle to get a front row seat. Tory MPs who as students in the early 1980s sported “Hang Mandela” badges were there too.

Courteous to all, whether they had backed his struggle or not, he had a soft spot for English ladies, especially the Queen. He was determinedly his own man, transcending political silos. Despite evident disapproval – including from his great admirer Bill Clinton – he insisted on visiting and thanking those leaders and countries that had backed the struggle during the cold war, notably Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Russia, when the governments of Britain, the US and the old European countries, were shamefully his opponents. He also defended the partnership between the ANC and the Communist party of South Africa.

But Mandela was never dogmatically ideological. His ANC generation was steeped in a moral and constitutional parliamentary tradition, brilliantly described in The Founders, Andre Odendaal’s recent book on the roots the ANC. His socialist instincts combined with liberal ones, his old-fashioned manners and family values the product of his Methodist missionary schooling and African chiefdom roots. His commitment to civil liberties was absolute – to the point where he had to instruct his deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, not to suppress a 1998 Truth and Reconciliation Committee report critical of the ANC.

Sadly, his successors have been unable to live up to Mandela’s high standards: first Mbeki’s denial of HIV-Aids and pusillanimous courting of Robert Mugabe, then dismaying corruption among local, provincial and national ANC politicians under Jacob Zuma.

Mandela openly defied Mbeki over HIV-Aids and hated Mugabe’s callous despotism and betrayal of the Zimbabwean freedom struggle. Corruption offended his most basic values, as his close Robben Island comrade Ahmed Kathrada recently told me.

Yet Mandela’s heart still beats within the ANC and the question is whether his inheritance can be rediscovered by a new generation. Upon that will turn South Africa’s future. And, as the African continent awakes to become the fast-growing part of the world, maybe its future too.

Madiba never forgot those hundreds of thousands of activists who rallied to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. “Except for all of you, I might not be standing here, a free man today, and our people would not be free,” he always told us.

Not only the AAM’s indefatigable executive secretaries, first Ethel de Keyser and then Mike Terry, but also the ordinary citizens who did their bit by boycotting South African oranges, wine and produce, should be proud.

Tribute to Nelson Mandela

BBC Wales

Peter Hain MP – whose family fled South Africa because of its support for Nelson Mandela – has led tributes to the country’s former president, who has died age 95.

The Neath MP described him as a “friend and hero” and the “icon of all icons”.

Mr Mandela had been receiving intense home-based medical care for a lung infection after three months in hospital.

In a statement on South African national TV, South African president Jacob Zuma said Mr Mandela had “departed” and was at peace.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” Mr Zuma said.

Following the news, Mr Hain led tributes to the Noble peace prize winner.

Mr Hain said there had long been a bond between Wales and the man known to friends as “Madiba”.

He cited the anti-apartheid demonstrations against the then all-white Springboks rugby team’s game in Swansea in 1969.

The former Welsh Secretary also fondly recalled Mr Mandela’s first and only visit to Wales in 1998, when he was awarded the Freedom of Cardiff.

He said: “Cardiff that day experienced a vintage Mandela performance.

“He ignored my guiding arm on his elbow and stopped at a group of primary school children sparkling in Welsh national dress.

“As the queue of VIPs waited, sweating in the unusually hot weather, he began conducting the children to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

“I later learned that it was the absence of his children that he missed most in all his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island.”

Mr Hain, whose family’s associations with the anti-Apartheid movement saw them blacklisted by the South African authorities in the 1960s, also described Mr Mandela as “a friend and a hero”.

Recalling Mr Mandela’s 2000 visit to the Labour Party conference in Brighton, he said: “As I escorted him inside, he asked his usual question: ‘How’s the family?’.

“On hearing my mother was in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital with a fractured femur, he stopped immediately and said that he must speak to her.

“Out came my mobile and, when she answered from her hospital ward, she was greeted with: ‘Hullo. Nelson Mandela here, do you remember me?’

“That’s what made him so extraordinary – he remained above all a people’s person which is highly unusual amongst global leaders or celebrities of his stature.”


Icon of all international icons

BBC Wales

Nelson Mandela was a “bright beacon of liberty and justice shining across the world”, said MP and lifelong anti-Apartheid activist Peter Hain.

The Neath MP learned of his family friend’s death at the age of 95 while attending the royal premiere of a film about Mr Mandela’s life.

Politicians have been paying tribute to Mr Mandela, who visited Wales in 1998 and was awarded the Freedom of Cardiff.

The Welsh assembly’s flags will fly at half mast on Friday.

Mr Hain led protests in the UK against the Apartheid regime after his own family fled South Africa because of its support for Nelson Mandela.

The former Welsh Secretary said Wales’ strong anti-Apartheid stance helped Mr Mandela bond with the nation during his one visit.

Mr Hain told BBC Wales News: “There was something about his visit to Wales where he felt a great identity with Wales as a small country and because of the role of the Welsh anti-Apartheid movement.

“And you could in a sense feel that in the way he met people and reacted to people and thanked them all in such generous terms.

“The Welsh anti-Apartheid movement that he thanked that day was a very strong movement, in the trade unions, the labour movement, the churches.

“And when the Springboks came in 1969 to tour Wales there were demonstrations, including probably the roughest, most violent attacks on demonstrators at Swansea – at St Helens – of the entire 25-match tour.”

Speaking from his Neath home, Mr Hain described Mandela as a “magnetic figure” who “never lost his common touch, his identification with people”.

He said: “He exuded humanity and was a people’s leader not just a towering figure.

“Nelson Mandela was not just the courageous leader whose whole adult life, pretty well, was spent on Robben Island in a tiny cell, he was also somebody who healed a bitterly divided nation, who brought people together, who forgave his oppressors but never forgot their oppression.

“And in that sense, he was, for me, the icon of all international icons.”

Mr Mandela had been receiving home-based medical care for a lung infection after three months in hospital.

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.