Why World Service and Radio 4 led the field on Mandela

The week in radio

When a political giant and beacon of freedom dies, it is only natural that there will be a period of tribute and reminiscence. Late last week, sandwiched between the pre-prepared retrospectives across the world's media, there was no shortage of politicians, pundits and pop stars paying effusive tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, even when some of those selfsame politicians, pundits and pop stars had previously been on a jolly to South Africa paid for by an anti-sanctions lobby group; or voted against resolutions calling for Mandela's release; or broken the boycott of an apartheid regime for their own financial gain.

Happily, as the weekend arrived, there was sanctuary to be had from the moist-eyed, superlative-wielding phonies filling up Sky News and its ilk, and that was in the land of radio. Moving between the many documentaries, essays and smaller items that had replaced the regular schedule I was reminded why, despite the litany of complaints aired in this column, there are times when I should quit carping and remember what is achieved here.

BBC radio is far from perfect, this much we know. But it is also a dispenser of small miracles on a daily basis. And lately these miracles have arrived at a dizzying rate.

Thanks to the BBC World Service and Radio 4, in the last week I have thought more about Nelson Mandela, and the ideologies that shaped him, than I have my own child. I wouldn't know more about him had I speed-read a pile of heavy-duty biographies after inhaling a packet of ProPlus.

In the process, I have some learned some charming facts such as the one relayed by the BBC's former South Africa correspondent Allan Little in Radio 4's Out of the Darkness about Mandela being born Rolihlahla, which translates from Xhosa as "pulling a branch from a tree" but also, more colloquially, means "troublemaker". And the fact that, while on the run, he became known as "the black pimpernel", and would disguise himself as a window cleaner, a car mechanic and, for meetings with white co-conspirators, a chauffeur. He would drive them around Johannesburg in this jarringly apt disguise while carving South Africa's political future.

I have heard substantial, reflective and often surprising viewpoints regarding a man who was more complex than I had ever imagined, both in person and in influence. Among the most intriguing perspectives came from Making Mandela in which presenter Laurie Taylor showed how we British became caught up in Mandela's extraordinary narrative and chronicled his rise here as a moral icon.

In the late Sixties few knew Mandela's name though his legend grew at the same rate as the British anti-apartheid movement, then galvanised largely by white left-wing types. "The idea of Nelson Mandela as a symbol of the brutality of the South African state was tremendously powerful," noted Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. "And let us be completely honest, it was partly manufactured. He wasn't the only leader in jail."

What will remain with me longest, however, is not so much the image of Mandela himself as the portrait of a country through the eyes its Prime Minister Johannes Strijdom in 1957.

In a chilling interview unearthed by the BBC World Service's Witness, Strijdom reflected on his decision to make black South Africans second-class citizens. "We are dealing," he said, "with a breed of people whose natural standard of life is far below that of the white man, and they will in their own interest have to remain under the guardianship of the white man for generations to come."

If only he knew then what we know now.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence