Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Little South Africa comes to a church in London
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Wednesday 11 December 2013
From the courtroom, during that historic speech, you “could hear the police dogs baying outside in the square” where two lines of police were “barring the large crowds singing in support of their heroes”.
Nelson Mandela’s closing words at the Rivonia trial have been quoted hundreds of times in the past week. But no-one had yet conjured the extraordinary atmosphere of the Pretoria Supreme Court that April day in 1964 as Joel Joffe, one of the defence lawyers at the time, did for the rapt congregation who packed the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields for Mandela’s memorial service in London.
Lord Joffe described how Mandela had explained to the court that he helped to form the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) because the failure of passive resistance left “no alternative to sabotage”. And how, when he reached his concluding vision of a multiracial democracy, there was “a long pause in which you could hear a pin drop” before “he looked squarely at the judge” and declared: “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
But this commemoration for the public – expat South Africans, black and white, as well as ordinary Britons – was anything but solemn. There was ululation, there was applause – they even clapped the sermon – and while few took up the invitation of the “MC”, a South African-born Methodist pastor, the Rev Jongi Zihle, to “dance in the aisles”, several did so in their pews. There were gospel readings in English and Xhosa.
There was “Abide With Me” as well as Mandela’s favourite hymn “Lizalis’Indinga laKho”, but the singing started with the South African national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and ended with a medley from the wonderfully exuberant South African High Commission Choir, the day’s musical leaders with choral scholars from St Martin’s, the church that had seen so many candle-light vigils during the apartheid years.
Mama Thembi Nobadula, an ANC veteran who had been on the women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 – a small figure in a black beret with a walking stick – described in an indomitably clear voice how she joined a delegation to Mandela to complain that he was “bending over backwards to appease those who been our oppressors”. And how he had patiently explained that he did want “another drop of blood” shed and that he was “the President of South Africa and not only those who had been oppressed”.
Sir Sidney Kentridge, a member of Mandela’s defence team in the 1950s treason trials, described how, opening South Africa’s new constitutional court, Mandela remarked that the last time he had been in a court was to hear if he would be sentenced to death. “I think everyone must have thought what a different history there would have been [if he had been executed],” he said.
Sir Sidney ended with Seamus Heaney’s lines, embodied, he said, in Mandela’s presidential inauguration: “…once in a lifetime/The longed-for tidal wave/Of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme.”
Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
Exclusive: World’s most pristine waters are polluted by US Navy human waste
Croatia's second city to close 'worst zoo in the world' after reports of 'nightmare' conditions and 'depressed' animals
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Did jetliner fly into area controlled by Taliban? Net widens after claims final satellite signal could have been sent from the ground
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Q&A by Simon Calder: How far could it have travelled? Who was responsible and what would their plans be? And how can a plane just vanish?
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Ukip and Nigel Farage on course for remarkable victory in European elections
Tony Benn was entirely ineffectual - and usually wrong
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 3 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Q&A by Simon Calder: How far could it have travelled? Who was responsible and what would their plans be? And how can a plane just vanish?
- 4 California man Christopher Viatafa surrenders to police after googling own name and discovering himself listed as ‘most wanted’
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: This well respected and exciting...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting company and market...
£40000 - £60000 per annum + EXCELLENT SALARY: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Cli...
£25,000 to £35,000: IT Connections Ltd: Signal Processing Engineer / Acoustics...