Nelson Mandela – the long walk is over

nelson-mandelaBarack Obama described Nelson Mandela as ‘a hero for the world’ and it is difficult to think of another politician who was as admired globally as he was. Perhaps the only comparable figure is Mahatma Gandhi, who also began his public life as a lawyer working for the civil rights of South Africans.

However, while Gandhi practised non-violent civil disobediance throughout his life, Mandela moved towards militant opposition to apartheid. His transition in public perception from terrorist to saint has been unique.

In 1996 Mandela was granted the Freedom of the City of London. I was very privileged to be present at the event in London’s Guildhall.

I recalled that he spoke with affection about the time he spent in the UK as a young man, and about the cosmopolitan nature of London. Recently I discovered the text of his speech online.

He said:

I am personally delighted to be back in London. I have long looked forward to this visit. I was, after all, brought up in a tradition of admiration for British democratic institutions.

I first came to London in 1962 under rather different circumstances. At that time I was not a free person. Like most of my compatriots, I had no vote in the country of my birth. And even here I had to resort to underground ways and move about secretly, since the tentacles of the apartheid security forces reached all the way to London. Not long after I returned to South Africa I was arrested and imprisoned.

As a nation united in diversity, we feel strong affinity with London; because this seat of colonial power that once ruled much of the globe has drawn into its body people from countless countries. The communities that established themselves here have in turn made London a part of each of those far-flung nations. Inasmuch as London and Britain left part of itself in the colonies; in this city resides part of the heart and soul of South Africa, India, Jamaica and other nations.

He ended his speech with an echo of the title of his autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, which had been published a couple of years earlier.

Allow me, My Lord Mayor, to once again thank you for the honour you have bestowed on me and the people of South Africa. I will always cherish this moment;because becoming a citizen of your great city is to me the culmination of a long walk started here in 1962.

In a sense, I leave part of my being here.

Mandela knew that at a personal level people cannot move forward in their lives if they harbour bitterness towards those who have done them harm in the past. That in itself is a difficult lesson for any of us to learn. But his greatness lay in his understanding that a nation, too, must work out how to deal with, and neutralise, any bitterness generated by past conflicts and oppression.

The establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a masterstroke. It provided a mechanism for examining the abuses of the apartheid era in a way that was genuinely transparent and redemptive. Of course, there are still many tribal and racial tensions in South Africa today but he left it in an incomparably better position that it was before.

I cannot begin to provide an adequate record of Mandela’s life and his contribution to world politics, but I invite readers to add their own memories. Were you a Young Liberal in the day when Peter Hain led the anti-apartheid protests? Did you live in South Africa either during apartheid or under Mandela? Were you at the Free Nelson Mandela Concert in 1988?  Can you recall your feelings as we watched his release from prison in 1990? Did you ever meet him or hear him speak?

Please add your own tributes and memories below.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Obituaries and Op-eds.


  • I don’t have Mr Mandela’s wonderful generosity of spirit. I remember Margaret Thatcher denouncing him as a terrorist, and the Federation of Conservative Students with their “Hang Nelson Mandela” teeshirts. I remember campaigning against apartheid in the 60s and 70s: Liberals and Labour were on the side of justice and humanity, and the Tories were the mealy-mouthed apologists for the apartheid regime. The Conservative Party has always been good at trimming its sails to the wind so Cameron makes the right noises now, but their history should not be forgotten.

  • tonyhill 6th Dec ’13 – 8:17am

    Tony has put into words much of my own reaction. The actions of some senior Conservatives was and is a disgrace (some of those Federation of Conservative Students who wore those teeshirts are now in positions of power in the Coalition). When Graham Tope was elected as MP for Sutton in 1972, some of the material put out by the Conservatives painted him as a supporter of terrorism in South Africa. That remained the Thatcher line when she was in government and beyond well into the 21st century. Mandela is polite about her in his autobiography but he pointed out her refusal to budge or do anything against her Apartheid friends; Her husband Dennis Thatcher was an outspoken supporter of the Apartheid regime.
    There has been a lot of re-writing of history in the last 24 hours.
    It should also be remembered that not everyone in the Labour Party was on the side of the angels in this; ministers in the Wilson Governments obstructed Anti-Apartheid moves and provided material support to the South African military and the hated BOSS in the 1960s and 1970s. I always found that the CPGB were much more reliable colleagues in the AAM, Labour Party people (with obvious exceptions) often faced both ways. We could rely on the Communists to do what they said they would, the Labour Party members would often cry off for fear of upsetting their people in government.

    Truth and Reconciliation is more than just reconciliation. You have to have the truth first.
    I fear that over the next few days there will be an outpouring of “public mourning” from people who will say all the right -sounding things about the South Africa of the past; but they will then go back to stigmatising the Roma, or the Bulgarians or whoever has the bad luck to be next week’s convenient scapegoats. We are not allowed to point up the similarities between what is happening today to young activists in Gaza an the rest of Palestine with what happened to the young Mandela – you might ask yourselves why?

  • Paul in Twickenham 6th Dec '13 - 8:57am

    Barack Obama said “he no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages”. Nelson Mandela was that rarest of things – a genuine hero and an inspiration whose place in history was settled during his own life. For me, he was simply and obviously the greatest living human being. Who is there to take that role now?

    As a student in the 1980’s I – like Tony Hill – vividly recall the appalling spectacle of the FCS demanding that the terrorist Mandela should be hanged. It was a key lesson in my political education – the forces of conservatism are on the wrong side of history…

  • gavin grant 6th Dec '13 - 9:39am

    I joined the Young Liberals in Lewisham in 1969 because of their leadership in the struggle to oppose the profound evil of apartheid. At University in 73 I koined the Liberal Club and the Anti Apartheid Mobement. The values of compassion, tolerance, pluralism, equal opportunity and courage were embodied by Nelson Mandela and inspired my commitment to Liberalism. I confess to confused feelings last night, sadness at his departure but great joy to have lived at the same time as this amazing, inspiring leader. Thank-you Nelson.

  • Richard Dean 6th Dec '13 - 12:46pm

    I do not like to dispute on this sad occasion, but I suspect that Nelson would agree that the long walk is never over. There are always tendencies to oppress that must be fought against, always those who will use freedom and power irresponsibly, and South Africa itself (and the world over) still has a long, long way to go in terms of equality. Let us not give up the cause simply because one of the greatest of fighters and leaders of all time has gone.

  • “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” – Margaret Thatcher, 1987

    “How much longer will the Prime Minister allow herself to be kicked in the face by this black terrorist?’ – Terry Dicks, Conservative MP, mid-1980s

    “Nelson Mandela should be shot” – Teddy Taylor Conservative MP, mid-1980s

    We should all thank David Grace for these reminders –

    “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.” – David Cameron, 5th December 2013

  • “How on earth did apartheid endure so long, younger viewers may be wondering, considering everyone who was anyone seems to have been on Mandela’s side?”

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Dec '13 - 9:53pm

    I think that few of us have Nelson Mandela’s generosity of spirit. Nevertheless, he was an example that we could at least try to aspire to.

    His example enabled many of us to shed the accepted beliefs of our parents’ generation. It taught me and others that we should never allow people to be discriminated upon because of an immutable characteristic such as the colour of their skin.

    Nelson Mandela may have has died, and I hope that he had the good death that he deserved, but his legacy must be transmitted through our generation to younger and future generations. One can never rest in the belief that the battle against injustice has been won, nor that what has been won cannot be lost. If everyone in their own small way, helped to remind people of how easily we can descend into inhumanity, this for me would seem to be the best tribute that we can pay the great man.

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Dec '13 - 12:16am

    Yes, John Tilley, and, in this context, may I quote the lyrics of Bob Dylan:

    “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend when I was down you just stood there grinning.”

    We have all seen it and we have all been there, and I should like to recall the long walk to freedom that still prevails in the UK. Just ask Doreen Lawrence!

    My abhorrence of overt racism goes back to the early 1960s when, as a girl, I worked as a receptionist at the recruiting office of a then well known catering establishment situated at the Marble Arch, London. I was told that black people should not be recruited as “front staff” but should only be recruited to work in the kitchens. It was my opinion then, and it is my opinion now, that people who seek to discriminate against people by virtue of the colour of their skin have no shame. In this context, may I quote Martin Luther KIng:

    “It is the quality of a man’s soul and not the colour of a man’s skin.”

    Yet, half a century on black people still suffer discrimination whilst the powers that be overtly profess to support equality. I say that, in the UK, they do not.

    Now, I live in the South West of England with EDL supporters on my doorstep and my LibDem MP couldn’t care less. It all amounts to the cult of popularity and true liberal values are sacrificed to the will of the “community”. The will of the “community”, if I recall, resulted in the civil rights’ abuses played out in many southern US states for many a decade. The march on Washington, if I recall, sought to draw attention to such abuses. Let freedom come!

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Dec '13 - 12:52am

    Yes, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend when I was down you just stood there grinning:
    You just want to be on the side that’s winning.”

    Given their sterling commitment to the apartheid movement, Peter Hain and his family must surely be reflecting on recent events.

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Dec '13 - 12:58am


    “given their sterling opposition to apartheid in South Africa”

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Dec '13 - 1:12am


    “given their sterling commitment to opposing the apartheid movement”

    Sorry, but I must make this quite clear because I have a great deal of respect for Peter Hain and his family who sacrificed themselves out of respect for equal rights and their fellow human beings. True liberals. Peter Hain was at one time chairman of the Young Liberals. Be it that the Young Liberals could be resurrected.

  • Shirley Campbell 8th Dec ’13 – 1:12am
    Be it that the Young Liberals could be resurrected.

    Shirley, I live in hopes that this will actually happen. Not too far in the future when this accursed Coalition is behind us, Young people who are Liberals may look back and consider who really were the heroes and who were the villains; those young people will hopefully then go on to organise themselves to take and use power for good, just as a generation of YLs did in the past.

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Dec '13 - 3:27pm

    @ Shirley Campbell
    Thank you for drawing attention to a very important point, the long walk to freedom that continues in the UK.

    It would be tragic if concerns for the struggles of South Africa were allowed to became diversion therapy for the manifest racial injustices that occur in our own society. The racism is less overt but it is no less ugly and a scar on our society.
    It is arguably more harmful than overt racism, because the person experiencing it is uncertain of the motivation behind the treatment they receive and their claims of racism are hard to prove. Yet we know from research that job applicants with foreign sounding names were discriminated against, and it is now known that there are differences in sentencing for people with different skin colours who have committed the same crime..

    We don’t need to look beyond the shores of the UK to find people who are denied the right to equality, injustice and human dignity. The response of Blunket and Clegg to the Roma inhabitants of Page Hall in Sheffield, was in my opinion, shameful, and demonstrated that we need our own Mandela, or even a politician with an ounce of of his integrity and courage.

  • A News report on Mandela that will probably not be covered by the BBC or mainstream UK media –

    ” Though considerably less harsh on Israel than his successors in the African National Congress, Mandela was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and its leaders. He dubbed Yasser Arafat “one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation” following the death of the Palestinian leader in 2004.

    On Sunday, PLO Executive Committee members Hanan Ashrawi and Hanna Amireh attended a special service in memory of Mandela, who died Thursday, at the Holy Family Church in Ramallah. Special services and masses commemorating the South African leader were held across the West Bank, Ashrawi’s office said in a statement.

    For Mandela, Ashrawi said following the service, “Palestine was not a question of solidarity or advocacy, but was [a cause] that he internalized and participated in as one of us. The linkage between South Africa and Palestine that Mandela spelled out was one of shared principles and struggles, primarily for self-determination, freedom, and human dignity.” ”

    To read the full piece go to –

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