Nelson Mandela and the Conservative Party – Forgive But Never Forget


‘Forgive,’ urged Nelson Mandela after the battle against apartheid triumphed, ‘but never forget’.

He might have had in mind the British Conservative Party.

In very recent times its leaders have joined the rest of the world in seeing Mandela him as an almost saintly figure. But that was most emphatically not the Party’s history, as David Cameron himself acknowledged when, in his pre-election rebranding phase, he publicly apologised to Nelson Mandela in 2009 for Tory complicity in sustaining apartheid.

It went back a long way. After his African National Congress was banned and Mandela was forced underground, he travelled to London in 1962 seeking support. But Tory Cabinet Ministers refused to meet him and the ANC was shunned by the Foreign Office. Instead Mandela was welcomed by the Labour and Liberal leaders Hugh Gaitskell and Jo Grimond.

After a nationwide campaign of direct action in 1969-70 by the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign of which I was chairman, mounting pressure on cricket bosses forced the previously unthinkable: they cancelled the 1970 white South African cricket tour to Britain at the direct request of the Labour Government, but shrilly denounced by Tory leaders.

Soon white South Africa was propelled into sporting isolation – banned from competing internationally in rugby, cricket, football, the Olympics and all sports. It was a ban ecstatically welcomed by Mandela – who upon his release said it was decisive – but vigorously opposed by Tories.

When the Tories won the 1970 election they reversed Labour’s limited ban on selling arms to the apartheid state. Then back in opposition in 1974, Tory Leader Ted Heath welcomed the British Lions rugby tour to South Africa in direct breach of the UN sports boycott of whites-only South African teams. By contrast Labour’s Africa Minister Joan Lestor refused normal British embassy receptions and facilities for the Lions.

Consistently, as the struggle against apartheid escalated through the 1980s, Tory MPs aligned themselves with apartheid, enjoying generous travel and hospitality, one becoming known as the ‘Member for Pretoria’. One, Gerald Howarth, was even involved in a private prosecution against me for conspiracy to stop the tours, nearly having me jailed after a month-long Old Bailey trial in 1972. Conservative Students wore ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ badges and Margaret Thatcher denounced him as ‘a terrorist’ just a few years before he walked to freedom from prison.

When in 1988 the Anti-Apartheid Movement organised a great ‘Free Mandela’ concert which filled Wembley stadium to bursting, Steve Wonder flew in. George Michael, Sting, Dire Straits, Eurythmics and a host of other stars performed. They defied Tory backbenchers who tried right up to transmission to pull the plug on BBC2’s live broadcast as over 600 million watched worldwide.

Labour trade union leaders like Ron Todd, Rodney Bickerstaffe and Jimmy Knapp gave leadership and solidarity. So did Labour MPs like Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, Joan Lestor, Richard Caborn and Bob Hughes.

I record all this, not out of spite at a time of genuinely widespread grief over the passing of perhaps the greatest leader of the last half century, but simply because we should understand our history – not least to learn for the future.

Nelson Mandela and the Conservative Party – forgive, but never forget

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.