Opinion: The inspiration of Nelson Mandela

The passing of Nelson Mandela is a moment in history which has touched almost everyone as we reflect on the momentous achievements of the great man and compare them to his engagingly humble personality.

His belief in peace, non-violence and reconciliation mark him out in the same bracket as Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jnr and Mahatma Gandhi. His role as a freedom fighter and international symbol of resistance of Apartheid show an uncompromising spirit.

Mandela was a hero to most and his fight inspired many to get involved in the political process, perhaps more in the Liberals than any other British party. It was impossible to be an internationalist without caring deeply about South Africa; hard to self-exclude from politics while a whole nation who longed for freedom were forcibly prevented even from voting.

As someone who was active in the anti-Apartheid movement I was personally inspired to get involved in politics by the great man and the struggle he represented, and I have no doubt a many of you were too.

In addition to the legacy of his towering humanity Mandela the politician has also left a powerful legacy for politics worldwide. His inclusiveness succeeded because he addressed the scars of prejudice and discrimination not to ignore them.

No international leader who met him was in any doubt that Mandela stood resolutely against war, injustice and poverty. His power lay in the powerfulness of values and ideals rather than office, the importance of symbolism to change hearts, and real action to change the reality of oppression and lack of freedom.

Beyond his engaging uncle-like personality and personal achievements we can forget that Madiba was actually a symbol of a movement, and one that was deeply rooted in Britain as well as South Africa.

Many leading ANC activists who fled the regime continued their campaign in Britain and they were joined by thousands of Brits who demonstrated regularly outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square and boycotted that nation’s produce.

And it was him who more than anyone else –shortly after his release from prison – who came to Britain to propel the case of Stephen Lawrence’s murder from the pages of the Voice newspaper to the national media and national consciousness leading to a public inquiry that changed our nation by addressing the scars of racism here.

In later life he was also someone who represented the ideals not just of dialogue and reconciliation between black and white South Africans but of nations at loggerheads. He reached out to Cuba, Libya and Zimbabwe not to endorse their regimes but to work for the peace and a better future for its citizens. And let us not forget that Liberal Democrats stood with him in opposing the war in Iraq.

To some he was Comrade Nelson for his unceasing advocacy of the responsibility of politicians to act to tackle unfairness and injustice. But to others he was Nelson the Liberal. Caring, compassionate, pro-freedom and opposed to an authoritarian state from personal experience. I believe he is an inspiration to Liberals because of both of these things.

I know that Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) are greatly inspired by him and I see in my colleagues that spirit of idealism and vision.

We may never see his like again but if every world leader paying tribute to him took a page out of his book the world will be a better place for it.

We will all miss him greatly. With his passing I would just like to say “Thank you, Madiba.”

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Issan Ghazni wrote – “His belief in peace, non-violence and reconciliation mark him out in the same bracket as Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jnr and Mahatma Gandhi.”
    If you read what Mandela wrote or what he said repeatedly in speeches on the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe,
    Mandela stopped believing in non-violence in is early forties. In that sense you cannot group him with Dr King and Mahatma Ghandi.

    In his famous “I am prepared to die” speech, Mandela outlined the motivations which led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. “At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.
    This conclusion was not easily arrived at. … …. we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.’
    Thereafter, you can read about this in his autobiography, he took a personal and active part in military training and in training others. Mandela was a great man, but you cannot admire him for a belief in non-violence.

    I am sure Issan Ghazni was not trying to mislead. But over the last couple of days I have seen too many people on TV doing exactly that. David Cameron for example. And it is not just old Thatcherites like Cameron who are re-inventing their political past this week.
    How curious it was to see David Lammy MP in numerous TV interviews telling us about the struggle. He was born in 1972 so you might ask what his contribution to the ending of apartheid actually was.
    Maybe he was particularly active at Primary School?. On Newsnight he got a bit carried away by telling us that when Mandela was released from prison “We had not seen him for 27 years” – well Lammy had never seen him, he was not even born when Mandela went to prison. He would have been about 18 wen Mandela was released.
    But then again this is the same David Lammy who reminds us that he went to school with President Obama (by which he means they were both at Harvard Law School at the same time for a brief period – which is not quite the same as being best buddies for all his formative years at a Tottenham Comprehensive).

    Lammy is not the only one re-writing their own personal history in the wake of Mandela’s death. It would appear today that everyone was a supporter of the ANC – how strange that I do not recall seeing them all on the marches.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 7th Dec '13 - 10:58am

    Everyone on the Left was pro Mandela, pro ANC and anti apartheid. What has been so unedifying about the past couple of days has been the rewriting of history by those who supported apartheid, condemned a great man as a terrorist and refused to impose sanctions on South Africa.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 7th Dec ’13 – 10:58am
    Everyone on the Left was pro Mandela, pro ANC and anti apartheid.

    You might want to thinks so, Mack, but check out the record of the Wilson Governments. There are some in the Labour Party who might want to hide what they were actually saying and doing in the 60s and 70s, but it is a mater of historical fact. To his credit Peter Hain, who has been in the Labour Party since 1977, made this point on Channel 4 News last night.

    Many people in the Labour Party have a proud record of campaigning against apartheid – but there were a lot who supported the status quo.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 7th Dec '13 - 3:09pm

    Nicely stated Issan.

    Nelson Mandela like so many other Civil Rights activists may well have started out supporting a less than peaceful approach to reform, but in common with people such as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr and Mahatma Gandhi he came to the realisation that non-violent resistance was ultimately the most appropriate response.

    On a personal level I believe that the fact that somebody has come to believe in a non-violent approach after a history of supporting the opposing stance is immensely laudable and extremely human for most of us have a history, some of which we regret, but these people realising the benefits of a peaceful approach to change makes such people and their success even more achievable to those of us who may not have always worn a hallow.

    Like many people of my generation from politically aware BME communities I grew up attending (in a push chair) Anti-Aparthied marches in support of the ANC, and Nelson Mandela was always (within my own household) seen as a hero of the Civil Rights cause along with the previously mentioned names and let us not forget Rosa Parks who was ‘peace’ personified. Mandela’s departure at anytime was going to cause disorientation for many, but I truly hope that his vision for peace, forgiveness and the desire to develop social cohesion cannot only be eventually developed in South Africa but throughout the world.

    We in the UK and within the Liberal Democrat Party have a responsibility to continue the work of this ‘giant of and for humanity’ and as our Leader Nick Clegg has stated:

    “That hope must now live on. Nelson Mandela’s legacy will continue to burn brightly, there is little doubt about that. But our greatest tribute to him will be our commitment to equality, humanity and peace – the values for which he very literally put his life on the line.”

  • Richard Dean 7th Dec '13 - 6:30pm

    I think the choice of a non-violent approach was more than just a moral one. It was the only practical way to win.

    Martin Luther King understood that, if black people were to achieve equality, they would need to be able to live in a society that was not one incapacitated by continuing black-white conflict. He also realised the value of narrative and temptation. His non-violent approach challenged the oppressive narrative that black people were ignorant and uncivilized. The speeches and demonstrations also showed that black people represented an economic opportunity – they wanted the same things as the oppressors (MLK’s “I have a dream” speech listed much of what white people wanted too). So they were a huge untapped market for eager entrepreneurs. Nothing succeeds like greed !

    I believe Nelson Mandela understood, too, that a major block to black equality in SA lay in the narrative that black people were ignorant and uncivilized. The narrative was reinforced by poverty and absence of proper schooling. He was, of course, part of a movement, not just a lone voice, and other parts of the movement provided the threat of violence which was arguably necessary too. But leaders on both sides realised firstly that change was inevitable and secondly that violent change would benefit neither side. Fortunately, enough people on all sides understood this, so a non-violent handover of formal power was what was arranged.

    South Africa still has a long, long way to go, and many other parts of the modern world still institutionalise inequality. Let us hope that more people take inspiration from MLK and Nelson Mandela, and that more leaders like them emerge. Most of us can’t do that, but what we can do is educate and provide support, so let us do that.

  • Jonathan Hunt 7th Dec '13 - 11:29pm

    There are many heros in the continuing battle for racial justice and human rights for all. But head and shoulders above them all was Nelson Mandela, the greatest human being of our age. He has been in my conscious since I was a teenager, becoming aware of wider politics, including the battles in the US and the granting of colonial independence.

    Mandela’s fight for African rights and then the show trial which the South Africans outdid the Soviets often made my blood boil the most and highest. Of course he wasn’t alone. Many brave people contunue the fight. My parents were friends of Steve Biko, and he was arrested leaving their house in Fort Hare the time before he was brutally murdered by the police.

    The fight for sanctions and a boycott was one we thought important. But my own personal conflict came with writing a story when I was on the Observer about the landing a superrtanker full of oil at Durban by changing a letter in its name. A late night call to the minsiter for trade elicited for the first time the fact that the oil was in South Africa.

    As a result, I was named in the the Pretoria Parliament, and it became clear that i would not be welcome if I chose to pursue the story in the republic. I never met Madela, but stood close when he came to Brixton, and it was a memorable moment in my life.

    Liberals must be involved in mourning his death and celebrating his life. But never in the way in which the awful David Lammy seemed to suggest that Madela’s freedom was due solely to Labour and the trade unions. And let us not forget that Thatcher and her acolytes continued to support apartheid and call Mandela a terrorist.

    Should we follow Mandela and forgive them for all their sins? Yes, reluctantly. And even the Americans, who only withdrew the ban on the ANC four years ago.

  • 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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