Countdown No 10: Mandela Day


Today, the world remembers a man who didn’t disappoint.  In fact, he did far more than most of us ever expected.

If you grew up through the 70s and 80s you lived with not just a South Africa divided by apartheid but a world unsure what happens next.  As a student there were marches, the pleas not to bank with Barclays because of their trading connections, the sporting boycotts, the stories of violence and injustice.

And the songs.  This is how I found out things.  Songs that called out for change and justice – songs that we sang here in the UK but probably didn’t really understand.  The simple refrain of Free Nelson Mandela from Special AKA; Gimme Hope Jo-anna by Eddy Grant; Biko by Peter Gabriel.  Even dare we say it I want to break free by Queen if unintentionally became an anthem of a fight against oppression in South Africa.

And there was a figure behind all these songs.  A Nelson Mandela who lay in a prison for many years and who would apparently solve all this.  Like many people, I remember the Sunday afternoon when he was released – it was like watching history in the making.  For 27 years we’d lived with a youthful defiant face staring at us in black and white.  Instead a slight old man appeared, walking slowly and carefully.  And when he spoke it was also slowly and carefully,  And he didn’t speak of revenge.  After 27 years in prison he was setting out to make friends.

I’m not a political analyst, but we can all see that he will be remembered as a man of destiny, who led his country through the greatest change it could ever do, and did it well.  He made friends of enemies, and even if they wouldn’t call him friends they respected him and what their country needed to do. He was the consummate politician – speaking in Afrikaans to reach out when he needed to, challenging his allies when he needed to. To achieve a greater aim.  And let’s remember, he started his lifetime’s work at the age of 72.

My Mandela song is called Mandela Day by Simple Minds.  First played at his 70th birthday concert (when he was still in prison) it is an elegant tribute, and yet tells the story before it had even really started!

RIP Nelson Mandela.