Opinion: Nelson Mandela: A personal tribute

Nelson Mandela commanded an enormous degree of respect from leaders across the world and will be a great loss to us all. He truly was one of the great souls of the last century along with Mahatma Gandhi who he credited with being a major source of inspiration in his life, especially with his philosophy of non-violence. Both Gandhi and Mandela were leaders who were imprisoned for years by oppressive regimes and now their statues share a place on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa.

While Gandhi influenced Mandela, a young Gandhi himself was mentored by Dadabhai Naoroji who was the first British Indian MP elected for Finsbury Central in July 1892. He was a Liberal and 112 years later, the second British Indian Liberal MP was elected in Leicester. A city where even Winston Churchill failed to win when he stood as a Liberal Parliamentary candidate.

And where did I derive a great deal of my political inspiration from? None other than Nelson Mandela, having spent my student years along with countless others campaigning for a free South Africa.

Nelson Mandela was highly critical of the decision that Tony Blair took to attack Iraq so when the world’s media descended on Leicester in July 2004 to witness the historic Leicester South by-election, referred to as the British referendum on Iraq, I was proud to play my part in delivering one of the few defeats  Tony Blair and his Labour government endured.

That was how far Nelson Mandela’s reach could extend.

* Parmjit Singh Gill is Chair of Leicester Liberal Democrats, Vice Chair of East Midlands Region Liberal Democrats and was MP for Leicester South from 2004-05.

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9 Comments

  • Rabi Martins 6th Dec '13 - 6:27pm

    It will come as no surprise to anyone that a great number of British political actvists and in particular those from Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds drew much of their inspiration from Nelson Mandela
    very much like Parmjit Gill says Mandela influenced his political path Parmjit also reveals that he supported the campaign to release Mandela who had been imprisoned for challenging the Apartheid regime in his home country

    It was very easy for those of us who came to the UK in the late sixties and early seventies to make common cause with Mandela and his compatriots who were fighting Apartheid in South Africa because many of us were victims of blatant racial discrimination here in Britain too Most people who lived in the UK around that time will recall adverts for accomodation in shop windows boldly saying “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” and jobs adverts in newspapers saying “Blacks need not apply” Not very different from what was going on in Apartheid South Africa where Blacks and Asians were barred from certain establishments and segregated in others
    Luckily none of us who campaigned for Racial Equality Legislation here had to spend time in prison to get results the way Mandela and his colleagues did
    I wonder how many of us would have gone as far as Mandela did to fight for Equality and Justice
    What is evident from the spirit of forgiveness that Mandela displayed on his release from prison and the compassion and statemanship with which he ruled South Africa ensuring people from all backgrounds were able to feel South Africa was their country – their home – shows the true measure of the man and is the reason why almost every single world leader has paid him such wholesome tributes today and say we will not encounter anyone else like him in our lifetime, if ever
    Nelson Mandela never forgot the vigour with which British people supported his campaign against Apartheid I heard him say as much at a speech I he made in Leeds on one of his visits to the UK
    We do of course all mourn for him But I like to think we can and should do more than that

    There remains a challenge for those of us who are still concerned that there continues to be too much racial discrimination in the UK And that is to do our little bit to do justice to Nelson Mandela’s lifetime work to promote Equality, Fairness and Justice in the world by endlessly campaigning for total Racial Equality at every level possible in this country
    I cannnot think of a better way to honour Mandiba’s memory

  • jonathan Hunt 7th Dec '13 - 10:54am

    I remember the Leicester South by-election well, and the fact that after 12 years we managed to elect a second non-white, Indian MP.

    In 2005, I went back to Leicester for the general election and was horrified to find that party headquarters had all-but abandoned Parmjit, such was the strength of their concern for LibDems representing the people we seek to represent. The spirit of Mandela did not appear to exist in Cowley Street then. Nor, to my knowledge, in sufficient voice at that time in bodies like EMLD either.

    Parmjit as an MP was an active and helpful member of the ethnic electoral task force, which later merged into and helped turn EMLD into the effective force it is today. He has an exemplary record since in promoting the party in Britain’s first ethnic minority city.

    This was witnessed by the award he and his local party received last year as the first recipients of the Dadabhai Naoroji award, after the first British Indian MP.

    I have made some comments about Nelson Mandela elsewhere.

  • jonathan Hunt 7th Dec '13 - 10:57am

    Should read… after 112 years…. Sorry

  • His ‘reach’ was fairly good in boxing also.

    Although I dislike war, arms trade etc. – like N Mandela I do like boxing!

    Amongst many things, his use of sport in politics we can learn from.

  • Parmjit, It is a great man who can learn from other great men.

    I also came to the UK as an alien, perhaps with the advantage of blending better because of my white skin. I can understand a certain amount of mistrust – but there is a big difference between “I wonder what the new neighbours will be like?” which is legitimate and between “We don’t want tour neighbours because they are black, Irish, Indian, … or Polish, Bulgarian”. It would appear that even after 112 years we still need to fight against discrimination. Parmjit perhaps you should try to emulate your 2004 success. I am sure the LibDems would support you know – after all it is now our official policy!

  • Scott Kennedy-Lount 17th Dec '13 - 9:19am

    During the 1980s the park next door to Leicester Prison was renamed Nelson Mandela Park. At various points in the park a series of quotes by Mr Mandela were placed on Leicester City Council branded signage. One I recall was “South Africa belongs to All who live in it; Black or White.”

    Whilst Rabi and Jonathan extend their contributions to Parmjit’s Personal Tribute to Mr Mandela we must remember within the City of Leicester the long journey for BME equality within the city; the Leicester South by-election victory in 2004 and beyond within the community and across the political divide.

    Last year Leicester City Council issued an apology after 40 years for its attitude by publicly advertising the expelled Ugandan Asians should not come to Leicester in 1972. What type of leadership was this promoting by actively seeking discrimination against a group of people who through no fault of their own required shelter, warmth, hope and a future. Comments such as this were not going to build bridges except create a distorted opinion of people who have the same aspirations in life as their neighbour; their only differences being lifestyle, skin colour and religious thought.

    Leicester’s BME population has grown immensely since then; located within Spinney Hills, Belgrave (the famous Golden Mile of businesses on Belgrave Road, the international home of the Diwali Festival; the largest outside India), Stoneygate and Knighton. Let us not forget too with the enlargement of the EU the strong presence of Eastern and Central Europeans in Westcotes and Fosse Wards. In business the Leicester Asian Business Association is a well respected organisation. Small independent convenience stores have become a thriving Asian financial brick to the local communities as has fashion producers within the city.

    Politically, hard work and determination by Parmjit and the local party team extended the growth of Liberal Democrats in Leicester in terms of membership, it’s ethnic diversity; (within the party winning National Prizes; the Penhalligan Award and last year the inaugural Dadabhai Naoroji Award for promoting diversity and equal opportunity within the city party) and importantly in the eyes of the general public the parties electoral respectability in the City.

    In Leicester South the Liberal Democrats moved from 3rd place to win the Parliamentary by-election in 2004. It remains the only time in UK Parliamentary history that a BME candidate has won from 3rd place. The precursor to this were the local Council elections in 2003, when the Liberal Democrats took joint control of Leicester City Council the 10th largest unitary in the country. They fell just 3 seats short of a majority, electing 25 Councillors from 54.

    Parmjit gained his political bite from the inspiration of Nelson Mandela. Parmjit has at the forefront of the Leicester Party proved if at first you don’t succeed continually try and try again; there will be a point when your message will meet a poignant accord with the public and a change in mood which as Nelson Mandela was for South Africa and Mahatma Gandhi for India a force for fairness and the common good of All.

    Leicester since the harsh anti-immigrant approach of 1972 has moved on both in terms of social mobility; economic contribution and political ideology.

    Leicester belongs to all who live it in; like South Africa. The whole world has learnt very important lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela and why we all mourn so deeply from the loss of this great man.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Apr '18 - 3:58pm

    Winnie Mandela died on 2/4/2018, aged 81. There is an obituary in the Times of 3/4/2018 pages 42-43. The last paragraph says “In 1998 Mandela married Graca Machel, the widow of a former president of Mozambique, but he never entirely severed links with his first wife. Madikizela-Mandela visited him in hospital in his final days. She was at his bedside when he died. when he left her nothing in his will she contested it – and lost.
    In “Long Walk to Freedom” page 116, he said “It was in the lounge of the Sisulu’s home that I met Evelyn Mase, my first wife. … We were married in a civil ceremony requiring only signatures and a witness at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg for we could not afford a traditional wedding or feast.
    Proportional representation by party list had been negotiated, (replacing First Past the Post, which would have exaggerated the ANC majority) so his photo was on the ballot paper. David Steel MP was an election observer. The new parliament elected Nelson Mandela President of the Republic. He decided to serve for one term and did so, setting an example to many others.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jul '18 - 12:28pm

    At PMQ on 18/7/2018 Theresa May welcomed the centenary of Nelson Mandela in words that many / most people can agree with.
    However Margaret Thatcher had called him a “terrorist”.
    This difference should be noted, including the views of the late Lord Carrington in his autobiography.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jul '18 - 12:39pm

    Barack Obama’s speech in South Africa did not mention Donald Trump by name, but the implications are obvious. Nelson Mandela set an example by serving as President for only on term. His age might have been an issue in his consideration, but he clearly intended that others in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa should do the same, thereby disproving the forecasts that the former apartheid regime and their supporters had made.

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