Nelson Mandela was a Secular Saint for the Whole WorldRoundup: Talking About History
tags: South Africa, Nelson Mandela
It isn’t just South Africa that will mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela. He was a symbol of hope for us here in the UK, too. There was even a movement to have his statue erected in Trafalgar Square, claiming him as British hero. Like Martin Luther King Jr or Mahatma Gandhi, his message appealed across national and political boundaries because it was rooted in a universal ideal of peaceful resistance to overwhelming violence. He came to be called a “living saint” less because of what he did than what he chose not to do. Never has so much been accomplished by explicitly rejecting the use of force, despite all due temptation.
Apartheid was a stain on the reputation of the entire world, not just South Africa – and it was something that many Brits felt a personal responsibility to fight. Racial segregation might have flourished long after Britain governed South Africa, but our imperial role in creating the context for this injustice meant that we had a familial, as well as a moral, responsibility to do something about it. Apartheid was an embarrassment to humanity; built on a lie of racial difference, a lie about history, a lie about biology. It compelled millions to live in poverty while an elite exploited resources that ought to have been accessible to all. It was sustained by torture, by the whip and the truncheon. Apartheid was the awful legacy of imperialism and white racism – the brutal reality of too much power in the hands of too few....
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