One man “terrorist” is the rest of the world’s freedom fighter

By Joe Mellor, In house Reporter 

TFPA Fourth Plinth Mandela

Nelson Mandela on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth

By now everyone in the world should know Mandela died, except maybe Joey Essex regardless of whether he is in the jungle or not.

My family were and still are avid political activists and I remember vividly not being allowed to buy South African “Outspan” oranges from the local supermarket. Even at a young age I knew we were trying to do something right.

I still haven’t had an Outspan orange to this day. Not much of sacrifice compared to 27 years imprisonment, I guess.

Sadly, I remember the blank expressions on other shoppers faces when my dad urged them not to buy said citrus fruits from the shelves, but in 1980’s Newcastle people had their own problems.

I also vaguely remember that in 1990, we sat in a hall in Durham with hundreds of left wing activities watching his release on a big screen.  After hours of waiting I dragged my parents to the local chip shop and we missed it.

Sorry Nelson big guy.

The song “I have never met a nice South African” was often played in my house during my parent’s drunken evenings. So like everyone else I felt a sense of loss when I heard the news that a great but very sick man had finally passed away.

From every corner of the globe people have shared their love for Mandela, through every form of social media. Our very own PM took to Twitter to say: “A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I’ve asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half-mast.”

But the Tories were not always supporters of Mandela and his ANC party. Cameron’s idol Margaret Thatcher refused sanctions against the fascist regime of South Africa. In 1987 she said of Mandela’s ANC party: “The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation…Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.”

After Mandela was wrongly accused of declining to meet Mrs Thatcher on a trip to London

Conservative MP Terry Dicks asked: “How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?”

Years later, in 2010, WikiLeaks published a cable from the US embassy in South Africa, claiming Mandela was furious the ANC executive committee vetoed his plan to meet her back in April 1990.

He wanted to meet the Iron Lady face-to-face and challenge her opposition to Commonwealth sanctions against the apartheid government. To his credit, David Cameron, the current British prime minister, apologised for Thatcher’s policies on apartheid when he visited South Africa in 2006.

Interestingly, Mandela caused uproar just before he finally met Thatcher in July 1990. On the way to England he stopped off in Ireland. On the issue of Northern Ireland, at the time the most sensitive subject in British politics, he said: “I would like to see the British government and the IRA adopt precisely the line we have taken. There’s nothing better than opposites sitting down to resolve problems by peaceful means.”

The was furious reaction from Downing Street, a spokesman for Thatcher said: “The message has got across to Mr. Mandela. We do not negotiate with terrorists and have no intention of negotiating with the IRA or their political wing.”

I wonder if Tony Blair apologised for Thatcher again after the Good Friday Agreement was signed?

Perhaps Mandela had more in common with the Republican struggle than he did with the British Government.  IRA members would have seen themselves as freedom fighters rather than terrorists, much like Mandela did.

It has to be admitted that prior to his arrest, Mandela was in control of the ANC’s military wing and was involved in sabotaging government infrastructure, electricity pylons etc. Just before his incarceration, Mandela and his group were also contemplating attacks on people rather than buildings. Mandela revealed that in some ways being arrested stopped him from taking part in these acts, which was one of the few benefits of his prison term.

Mandela had originally followed Ghandi’s non-violence campaign but was dragged into conflict after the brutality of the government, leaving him seemingly with no choice. You can’t tame a lion while holding daisies.

But he was wrong, that didn’t achieve anything. During his years of imprisonment, he realised that retribution and retaliation are causes not solutions.

So when he emerged from prison into the light, he stepped back into society as the man who shaped a nation, if not the world.

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