What can one say, others will say it better in the eulogies that will pour out. Simply RIP Nelson Mandela, the world is a poorer place without you but your legacy will remain for a long, long time.
I cried the day he was released, tears are flowing now - what more can I say
I am so happy for him that he died at home, at 95, with his people. Who would have thought in 1981 that could happen? I had no hope then that what we were doing in New Zealand would make one bit of difference in South Africa.
I first remember becoming aware of Nelson Mandela in 1984, when Free Nelson Mandela hit the charts, and my mother explained who Nelson Mandela was (I'd been wondering what a Nelson Mandela was, and why it was good to get them free, like "Free cookies" or "Free firewood"). Later that year we had a relieving teacher who spent the full day telling the class about apartheid, what it was, and what it meant.
Later I attended a United World College. Nelson Mandela's children had attended the UWC in Swaziland, and he later became President of UWC international. Our choir always finished its concerts with Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, partly in his honour. Now Chair of New Zealand's UWC National Committee, I've always been so proud to have his name on our letterhead.
So although I never met him, and never knew him, I am mourning his death. He was so great a man it was a privilege even to walk on the same planet as him.
Isn't it a strange, melancholy and nostalgic day? Mandela really was the greatest figure of the 20th century. In the way I view the world, being a child of the 1980s, he was alongside Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev in the sense of bringing tyranny to an end - but he stood so much further above them because personally had been persecuted and imprisoned, and yet he forgave.
I grew up in a conservative family and my dad went to the Christchurch and Wellington tests in 1981. He was going to take me, then aged 9, to the Eden Park test but my mother intervened and made us go to Taupo for the weekend. Her main motivation was to keep us safe, but she and her side of our family were anti-tour. Some of my strongest childhood memories are of awful arguments between the pro and anti tour sides of my family. If it means anything as a 9 year old, I suppose I was pro tour but I also remember being very impressed with the bravery of those who stood on the field in Hamilton, and watching all that unfold on television. It seemed like, and it was, an important pivot in what was going on. In 1990, when I was in the Young Nats, I asked John Minto to come to speak to us to “debate” what was happening in South Africa with Warren Kyd, a National MP who supported the regime. John Minto won the “debate”. How bizarre there was even a “debate”.
I remember asking John Minto if he saw a parallel between FW de Klerk and Mikhail Gorbachev in the sense that they were both people who had risen to the top of an evil system and were carefully trying to change it, without civil collapse. He didn’t think there was any parallel, but I still think there was.
Like Russell in his post, the day Mandela was released from prison is one of those days that defines the era in which we live. In accounts I have read since then, there is a great story about Mandela wanting a flash suit in which to leave prison, in order to send an important political message to the financial markets, the military and white South Africans. I can’t remember if I had any pre-release impression of Mandela back then, but I probably assumed he was a Castro or Che Guevara type figure. The Armani suit (or whatever it was) confused me.
Later, as a speechwriter in the Beehive in 1994, I asked the then chief press secretary Richard Griffin if I could write a draft of Jim Bolger’s speech for when he went to South Africa for the inauguration. I think Bolger was even going to speak to the South African Parliament but my memory could be exaggerating what I set out to try to do. Richard agreed and I wrote a draft, which I am sure was awful, along the theme that it was only now that apartheid was gone that everyone, no matter what their political background or what they may have said before, could now see so clearly how evil the regime had been. The speech was a bit too much for Mr Bolger, but I was still proud when a few lines made it in to the final draft.
Then there was the inauguration itself. Mandela I remember gave a very good speech (although I don’t think it was brilliant and can’t remember any of the lines) but what struck me most was when, after the speech, he headed off and was saluted by the heads of all the branches of the South African military and intelligence services. The commentator pointed out that a years earlier their job was to arrest or imprison him. In retrospect, I think the very conservatism of the white population helped with the transition to democracy – these old school lads were taught to respect their state president no matter who he was.
Then there was the Rugby World Cup final in 1995. I remember watching it at a friend’s flat in Orakei Road and – again from memory, so probably wrong – it didn’t finish until about 5am. It was the greatest game of rugby there had ever been. Mandela showing up in the Springbok gear just added to the sense of history. It was incredibly exciting and there was the awful feeling when the All Blacks finally lost. But even then I think everyone interested in politics knew the result was right. I have spent some of this afternoon watching the game again – in particular when Mr Mandela walked onto the field before the national anthems and then when he presented the cup.
A few days later there was the story about “Susie” poisoning the All Blacks. Lest anyone think I am a bleeding heart liberal, I remember thinking that if I had been president of South Africa in 1995, I would have ordered the South African equivalent of the SIS to poison the All Blacks too. Maybe he did! But the little bit of me that thinks he may have is one of the reasons I admire him so much. His wonderful book, Long Walk to Freedom, and other accounts of his life, show he was not some sort of innocent saint but a hard-nosed pol. He was the sort of leader who would think about what suit to wear when leaving prison. He made peace with poor old de Klerk and they won the Nobel Peace Prize together, and then he despatched him utterly ruthlessly in the election campaign, humiliating him in the debates. De Klerk’s autobiography on this is well worth reading: I guess because he didn’t know much about true democracy with all its glorious faults, that he never anticipated Mandela would do whatever it took to win. Mandela was a guy who would do attack ads with the best (or worst!) of them. To me, that is much better than being a mere saint. But whatever it is to be a saint, he was also one of them.
I doubt we will ever see someone so great in our lives again. Sorry for writing so long. I hope Russell doesn’t mind. I am not sure why I have wanted to bash all this out. Or why Public Address seems the right place to post it.
E te rangatira, e te maunga teitei rawa, Madiba, haere atu rā ki ō tūpuna, mātua kua wehe ki te Pō. Haere i runga i te aroha me te rangimārie kua whakatipuria e koe i tō oranga. He pou herenga waka koe, e kore koe e warewaretia. Nō reira, haere, hoki, moe mai rā.
I was at that concert at Wembley, and it was very moving to see the man - even in the distance - for whom I'd been on so many protests, and pickets outside of the South African embassy in London. I also remember how Mrs T and her cohorts had described him and the ANC as terrorists, and how fiercely they resisted sanctions.
Lest anyone think I am a bleeding heart liberal
For Nelson Mandela, today we’ll let you in the club Matthew. I was going to write more later but I won’t: you’ve said much of it, and eloquently.
The pitch invaders were brave: I watched the live broadcast at the old Railway Tavern on Wellington's waterfront, surrounded by wharfie rednecks with my friend who was the barman. We kept very, very quiet. The rednecks were murderous in a non-recreational way.
Great post Matthew. Thanks.
He was so great a man it was a privilege even to walk on the same planet as him.
Yes, that is how I feel. All a bit weird. One thing I forgot to mention in my rant was watching him, from an open window in the Beehive, arrive at parliament. There were thousands of people on the forecourt. He was driven from the airport in the Rolls Royce normally only used by the Queen. He was so gracious. I saw him with my own eyes. A few years later, at a WTO meeting in Geneva, I was in the same conference hall as Clinton, Blair, Castro and Mandela. For a political junkie, that should be the ultimate. But there was nothing like seeing Mandela that beautiful day in Wellington. (Then there was a fire alarm, while he was meeting Jim Bolger. Everyone had to evacuate the Beehive. Except Mandela and Bolger who continued their talks.)
He came to Wellington in the mid 1990s. Pattrick Smellie was then head of the Press Gallery and had organised the big speaking event. Pattrick's son Max was a small baby and I babysat for probably the first time they had been out since Max was born. (He was fine, of course).
My son was at Thorndon School and when they heard that Mandela was having a bit of a walkabout outside parliament the whole school walked down to say hello. Some of those older teachers were real fangirls and boys, and Mandela was lovely to the children. I was working nearby in the Dept of Internal Affairs and watched the event out of the window.
Very nice post, Matthew.
I think one of Mandela's remarkable achievements was the number of minds he changed - not just official stances for public consumption, not just the re-writing of history, but people genuinely "getting it". Yes, it can be done.
Having said that, if in the future we will all rememeber what we were doing when the news came through that Nelson Mandela had died, Radio Live's Sean Plunket will be able to say "I was proudly defending Golliwogs". So there's a long way to go.
Sorry for writing so long.
All the memories are good.
I have 10 years on Matthew and significantly more left wing leanings so my memories a coloured differently. But what is the same is the recognition that Mandela was a genuine force in the world. You could argue it was all hype and politics but that would be blinding yourself to the simple fact that his name and his voice changed more than just one nation.
He became a focus of attention and then took that attention and used it to change South Africa and to some degree to change the world. He could so easily have been a bitter selfish leader, but he wasn't. He took the power he was given and tried to make a better country and a better world.
For me he will always be what politicians should at least try to be, a statesman.
By marriage I am related to a World Cup-winning Wallabies captain. He might have done one or two other noteworthy and honorable things with his life before and since. But I still remember walking in to his personal study, and there is only one photo in the room: of him and his son, the day they met Nelson Mandela.
There is hole in the fabric of things where Mandala once was.
I know other folk have posted this music clip here before, but here, again….
To me it captures 1981: not so much the anger of the time but certainly the angst. There was a sense of scabs being ripped off, more at a social level than at a political level (although politics there was, of course, aplenty).
On Mandala himself, this piece in Slate, on why he was not a saint is very good. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/obit/2013/12/nelson_mandela_dies_at_95_the_south_african_leader_s_flaws_as_much_as_his.html
An amazing man, who's place in history will never be forgotten. There are very few people who can transcend ethnic, national, wealth and religious boundaries - Mandela was one of them.
One of the most touching tributes I have read today is from Muhammad Ali:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Mandela. His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world. He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realise, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colours. What I will remember most about Mr.Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”
The pitch invaders were brave
(at the risk of a derail)
In my Dad’s case, he had no particular intention of doing so, but found himself swept along with the crowd once the fences had been pulled down. We were glued to the black and white TV, waited anxiously for him to come home, which he did hours later, with a black eye.
He and I were talking about it a couple of years ago. My Dad is a classic stoic, unemotional New Zealand male like most of his generation. Apart from when my Mum died, the only other time I can recall his voice shaking is as he gave an account of that day and how the protesters were subsequently hunted through the streets of Hamilton.
I am very proud of him.
Nothing to add about Mandela, it’s all been said.
Thanks Matthew for having the courage to write that. Public Address was absolutely the right place to post it.
He came to Wellington in the mid 1990s
My college choir, the Wellington East Girls' College Small Choir, got to sing for him, I think in the Town Hall. Nearly two decades later, when I was going to WEGC, the head of music still had us sing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika every so often during school assembly, and had a photo of him meeting the choir in the music department. It meant something more to her than I ever really understood; by the time I was old enough to know who he was, he'd stepped down as president.
I am so happy for him that he died at home, at 95, with his people. Who would have thought in 1981 that could happen?
South African friends have commented that the Hamilton game - which I am sure was the first time a live broadcast of an international rugby game was shown in South Africa - was acknowledged to be one of the final straws on the camels back that eventually brought about SA "Independence".
And that 1995 game.......
Some of my strongest childhood memories are of awful arguments between the pro and anti tour sides of my family.
Mine too. Thanks Matthew. I'm glad this thread's here. I also have a profound sense of loss today.
The '81 tour (and the years working up to it) were very much my coming of age, I was 21 - it was a long wet cold exciting winter everyone's lives stopped
In '84 I moved to Berkeley CA, decidedly political in it's own right, I saw Patu! in a NZ film festival at the PFA, the well off ex-pats behind us tut-tutted, what was wrong with NZ - they had no idea, I saw it again at the old UC theatre in an anti-apartheid festival - when Muldoon came on there were scattered boos from the kiwis in the audience.
When I had been in the US for 6 months or so I was very homesick, someone sent me an EP, we didn't have a record player, it was over a month before I heard it, it blew me away:
check out the shorts on the guy on the left (and one the PA mast head).
Through all this we had an image in our head of Nelson Mandela - that young strong guy with the beard and a smile the man who walked out of Robin island was old, he looked nothing like what we had remembered, but he still had that smile