In the summer of 1985 I was a young man fresh out of Manchester University. Through my reading of African liberations struggles I had come to understand the significance of the historic struggle of the African National Congress and the leadership provided by the imprisoned Nelson Mandela.
I had printed my own t-shirt with the legend ‘Nelson Mandela ANC’. Wearing it with pride I remember receiving abuse from some white people who accused me of supporting a ‘terrorist’.
Margret Thatcher’s support for the South African Apartheid regime and her condemnation of Mandela had influenced the country. Despite this I saw over the next decade millions of British people join the Anti Apartheid Movement.
We needed no convincing to support the ANC. The daily brutality of the Boer regime was daily news item. I am told that at the time the Association Chief Police Officers requested Margaret Thatcher to put pressure on the BBC to stop news reports showing brutality in South Africa. Police officers were reporting fierce resistance on the streets. The fact was black youth in the UK faced with a racist police service were joining the dots.
As the spokesperson for the National Black Caucus I had worked with ANC exiled comrades living in London I was honoured to be invited to organise a reception for Nelson Mandela in London in 1993. I was later able to facilitate Mandela’s support for the Stephen Lawrence Campaign.
My association was close and I was fully involved in working with the ANC and others in the Anti Apartheid Movement. I attended the Freedom concert at Wembley and celebrated with the entire world the defeat of despicable racist regime.
When I think of Mandela I cannot but help think of the magnificent Cuban Army who took on and beat the South African Army providing a turning point in the war against Apartheid. In 1988 Fidel Castro sent his army to support the Peoples Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola who were defending the area of Cuito Cuanavale from the advancing armies of the South African Army and the US backed mercenaries of Jona Savimbi.
In a decisive battle that ultimately led to the defeat of Apartheid, the Cubans and Angolans defeated the forces of racism.
Nelson Mandela never forgot the sacrifice made by the Cuban people. Always a man of principle Mandela, whilst forgiving his enemies, never forgot his friends.
In 1996 I met him again in London Brixton with Operation Black Vote, where he was literally mobbed and applauded from the rooftops.
The next time we met was in Durban South Africa at the 2001 United Nations World Conference on Racism. Finally I had both the honour and privilege of being part of the former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s team that ensured that Mandela was honoured with a statue in Parliament Square. The great man himself came to the unveiling.
I consider myself to be very lucky to have had these opportunities. For a working class black boy who printed a t-shirt I count myself having been blessed. I remember those times with a sense of deep joy and appreciation.
Now the world will mourn and the global media will dedicate hours to his memory. Knowing the man as I do, I suspect Madiba would not be impressed. I think I can hear him saying “ I was part of team” I dedicate this song Rastaman Chant by the late great Bob Marley and the Wailers to you Madiba.
RIP Nelson Mandela