Day 212 – Special

I’m exhausted. But it was all worth it.

I’ve just got back from helping out on a school trip to Robben Island, but no ordinary trip. This was an all-access visit, and so I found myself – alone – in Nelson Mandela’s prison cell this morning.

Incredible. Moving. Humbling.

But I am – as I mentioned earlier – completely knackered, so more on this tomorrow.

Margaret Thatcher advised PW Botha to release Mandela in 1985

Here’s interesting.

From Guido Fawkes (via Brian Micklethwait), this:

The myth that Thatcher (and her admirers) supported apartheid is one of the core beliefs of the Comrade Blimpish left. Charles Moore touched on it in The Telegraph this morning. It is a false charge and Nelson Mandela himself was in no doubt – saying of Margaret Thatcher in July 1990 only a few months after his release: “She is an enemy of apartheid… We have much to thank her for.”

We all know that the allegation that Thatcher referred to Mandela as a terrorist was incorrect, although yes, she did once refer to the ANC’s threat to specifically target British interests in South Africa as being “typical of a terrorist organisation.”
And while many people also gleefully shared the:

Anyone who thinks the ANC is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

quote when she popped her clogs in April, she didn’t say that either. It was actually Bernard Ingram, a member of her government, sure, but not her.

Here’s a excerpt from the (now declassified) letter sent from Wor Maggie to then President PW Botha in October 1985:


“I continue to believe, as I have said to you before, that the release of Nelson Mandela would have more impact that almost any single action you could undertake.”

The rest of the letter also makes fascinating reading.

HISTORY! It’s not quite as cool as SCIENCE!

Jonny on Madiba

Obviously, I’ve already read a lot of things this morning on the death of Nelson Mandela. But for me, this stood head and shoulders above everything else. Personal, honest, obviously written from the heart. It’s from Jonathan Faull on Facebook, and will soon also be on [I’ll update the link when it is available] [link updated]. Thanks to him for giving me permission to reproduce it here.

Here are Jonny’s memories of Madiba:

I remember not knowing what you looked like; seeing the regime’s footmen erasing your name from walls at sunrise before the paint had dried.

I remember, as a child sitting on the back seat of the car on the way to town, and at the top of Hospital Bend, my aunt pointing to Robben Island and saying that was where he lived; where the government had sent you.

I remember the news saying you were a terrorist, and my parents having to carefully explain to my seven-year-old-self that you were a hero; that the news and the government lie.

I remember the first time I saw you – the first time any of us had seen you for decades – walking free from Victor Verster; fist aloft… and in your smile, the uncertainties, violence, and angst of those heady days somehow dissipating. The spectacle of your release; the joy of a people unleashed; the chaos of your arrival at the Grand Parade.

I remember your words pulling us back from the brink of fratricidal explosion: “This killing must stop… we must not permit ourselves to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for. Let us respond with dignity…” On that day you already were our President.

I remember a year later – almost to the day – walking to school the day after the elections and every person I passed, meeting my gaze and smiling at our new found wonderment.

And ten days later, bunking off school, in school uniform, and heading to the Parade to hear you speak as our State President; immersing myself in a throng of nationhood and unburdened happiness; being hoisted atop shoulders to cling to a lamp post to see you.

I remember the farce of the time that I met you: when while working as a waiter at a State Banquet for Bill Clinton, I abandoned my table and cunningly intercepted you… and hugged you! Before your bodyguards prized the crazy white kid from your smiling and surprised embrace.

I remember when you visited Zackie Achmat on his near-death-bed. You probably saved his life and – through his service – the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans in the face of your successor’s madness.

I was there when you had to be hoisted to the stage at UCT to celebrate the life of Steve Biko; when at the conclusion of your speech you announced your “retirement” from public life: “Don’t call me; I’ll call you.”

And I will remember this day – alone and bereft in Washington DC – so far from home, and the people who have come to call you Tata…

Hamba Kahle Madiba.

We will remember. How could we ever forget?

The Day Comes

The day that South Africa had been expecting, but dreading for so long, has finally come.

Despite not being in the public eye for a number of years, he will obviously be greatly missed and it’s a hugely sad day for everyone here. The apotheosis of Madiba – obviously accentuated today by this morning’s news – by the South African public is incredible to see, especially from an outsider’s point of view.

It has reminded me that although I live here and although I love this country, I’m not South African. And yet I find myself feeling shocked, numb, sad this morning. It’s impossible not to. For those in the UK who are wondering what things are like here today, it’s the equivalent of a hundred – a thousand – Dianas. But while that’s the only event in my lifetime that I can compare it to, paradoxically, it’s also somewhat incomparable. It speaks volumes that Madiba’s death, though it has been inevitable for so long now, something that – given the previous false alarms and scares – people here had probably felt that they were prepared for, has still sent shockwaves of grief through us all.

Life goes on – it has to. But there’s something very different about things today.

Royal Baby Excitement: An Explanation for (some) South Africans

There were a lot of people getting very excited about events at a London hospital yesterday. And there were a lot of locals here who didn’t seem to understand why there were a lot of people getting very excited about events at a London hospital yesterday and they actually got quite annoyed about the people who were excited.

I’ve never really understood why if something doesn’t interest people, they feel that they have to aggressively criticise it. To me, it suggests some sort of insecurity. Who knows?

Anyway, I fell into the middle of the two of the groups. I wasn’t hugely excited about the birth of the royal baby, but equally, I didn’t have a problem with the people who were.

So here’s a way I thought of explaining it, in a journalists outside a hospital kind of way.

Compare this line (much used yesterday as a reason to belittle those excited people):

“It’s just a baby. Hundreds of women have babies every day.”

with this line:

“He’s just a patient in a heart hospital. Hundreds of people are patients in heart hospitals every day.”

Which is a pretty ridiculous sentiment for anyone* in South Africa to accept, because Madiba has almost deity-like status here. He’s a special person. His is a public interest story. So yes, there are many other heart hospital patients around, but Madiba is South Africa’s heart hospital patient, and that’s why his hospitalisation is different.

Well, the birth of the royal baby is Britain’s version of Madiba’s hospital stay. You can see that it matters to “us” in the same way that Madiba matters to SA simply by looking at the similar scenes outside the Pretoria Heart Hospital and St Mary’s in London.

It’s not an ideal analogy, but it’s not far off.

Live and let live: whether it’s babies, former presidents or excited punters.


* 99%+ of people, anyway.