Mandela's message to black Britain

'Scale the mountains': the call from Mandela to black leaders
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The Independent Online

Nelson Mandela, the hero of the global battle for racial equality, last night made an impassioned appeal for leading black Britons to take a lead in countering violence and low achievement in the inner cities.

At the start of a visit to Britain to celebrate his own life, the former South African president said it was vital that the achievements of the UK's successful black people were harnessed to inspire those "who scale the mountains with you".

The challenge from the 89-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who will today unveil a 9ft statue of himself in Parliament Square, comes at a time of intense debate about the need for a new generation of role models for black teenagers.

A report this month estimated that tackling under-achievement among young black men and boys would boost the British economy by £24bn over 50 years.

Mr Mandela said the gathering was "testament not only to the achievements of all of you gathered but also to the ability of a city to harness the talents of all of those who come in search of opportunity, and all of those who follow them".

Mr Mandela added: "Leadership comes with responsibility. It is important for you as leaders to harness those responsibilities and ensure that you also empower those around you who scale the mountains with you."

The message was delivered by Mr Mandela's grandson to a dinner held at the Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair for leading black Britons to recognise their success, much of it in areas that go unrecognised by mainstream media.

Mr Mandela said of the gathering: "Although this evening may only represent the first-ever Londoner Black Leader dinner, it is your job to ensure that this is only the first of many such events to follow."

Among the guests last night were Stanley Musesengwa, the head of multi-national sugar conglomerate Tate & Lyle, and Damon Buffini, the boss of the private equity firm, Permira.

Mr Mandela, who was too frail to attend last night's event, took the opportunity to underline the message that black communities should be seeking equality during an earlier visit to Downing Street.

Speaking alongside his wife, Graca Machel, after a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr Mandela said: "My wife and I are happy to be here because, as you know, they were one of our rulers, but we overthrew them. We are on an equal basis now."

Gordon Brown described the one-time prisoner of apartheid as "the most inspiring, the greatest and most courageous leader of our generation".

Mr Mandela's intervention takes place amid growing concern that youths in inner cities are being drawn into gangs because they see a lack of alternatives.

Tony Blair caused anger among black community leaders when he used a speech shortly before his resignation to insist that a spate of fatal shootings and stabbings in London was caused by a distinct black culture rather than poverty.

According to Home Office figures, some 75 per cent of gun crime victims - and 79 per cent of suspects - come from the African-Caribbean community.

US civil rights activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson said last week that stemming the flow of guns and drugs into the UK was "critical".

But he echoed the thoughts of many black leaders when he said that equal importance needed to be attached to bringing ethnic communities into politics and investing in issues such as job opportunities, wage inequality, the impact of debt and day-care provision.

Reach, a report by 20 experts on how to tackle the issues faced by black youngsters published this month, highlighted mentoring as key measure alongside investment to prevent the creation of US-style ghettos in the inner cities.

Leading campaigners welcomed Mr Mandela's message. The Reverend Nims Obunge, the chief executive of the Peace Alliance, a leading campaign group against gang crime, said: "There is an African saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child. I believe he is calling on Britain's village elders to take a greater role in raising the children of our own village."

Dr John Sentamu Archbishop of York

"The criminalisation of generations of black men is being accompanied by the demonisation of Asian, Muslim men. Criminality does not belong to one ethnic group, nor is it innate. It is learnt. It is not a 'black problem', it is a human problem.

"Physical poverty can breed the conditions in which criminality flourishes, but spiritual and moral poverty will lead to crime. As long as idolatry and rampant materialism replace faith and hope, criminality will continue to take hold of our young.

"Ultimately it is not politicians who will lead us out of this but parents. It is parents who have primary responsibility for teaching values to their children and it is the duty of the rest of us to support them. There are shared values that can be both taught and learnt. Values are learnt in the home and then replicated in the street. If there is a vacuum of values at home, if parents absolve themselves of this responsibility, the values of the street will be replicated in the home and violence will come home to roost.

"Parents must shoulder the responsibility for where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing. The state cannot do this and nor should it be expected to."

Kano Rapper

"I was raised by a single mother. I know that not having a father affects many people in a deep way. All young people, black or otherwise, need role models. And it's true that black people have fewer role models than most. That's why I want to be one: I know I'm a positive person with a lot to offer.

But politicians who blame everything on family breakdown miss the real point: broken homes will generally only breed criminals if they're poor. This is about young people and poverty, not about colour. Except for a few, black people raised in the UK are not raised by rich families. The children themselves have to raise cash, and from an early age. Of course some of them will be forced into crime. Talking about it in terms of race only entrenches the feeling of difference and opposition amongst communities. If we talk about black people as being particularly predisposed to crime, suddenly everyone becomes afraid of black people. As a result, black people feel victimised. It all gives rise to a kind of 'they don't care about us' feeling within society."

John Regis Olympic medal winner

His nephew, Adam Regis, was stabbed to death in Plaistow, East London, in March

"It's neither useful nor fair to treat this as a 'black' problem. What we're dealing with is a nationwide epidemic. We have to face up to the fact that a generation of young people (mostly men) have lost direction. This is largely because our politically correct adults have lost faith in their own authority. The result is that children have lost all sense of discipline. We need much tougher penalties for children who misbehave. That starts in school.

Teachers used to feel confident about asserting their authority, but now they let kids off lightly because they're fearful of prosecution. This is nonsense: we need our schools to be strict environments where children are rewarded for good behaviour and punished for bad behaviour. People like those who killed my nephew join gangs because they offer a sense of worth. But it is totally false. Gangs are like families which you qualify for through crime. We need to demonstrate to young people that family ties are the truest source of love and security."

Ray Lewis Founder and executive director of Eastside Young Leaders Academy

"Our first flaw has been talking of the 'black community'. That label is hollow: no such community exists. An absence of community is the major problem on British streets: it leaves a vacuum filled by crime. Only be re-invigorating community spirit can we give our young a sense of belonging, regardless of colour.

"Increasingly, young, black Britons become socially excluded as a matter of choice. It's important that we recognise that they are active players in this. Poverty has plenty to do with it, yes, but there is no direct link between poverty and criminality. Instead, many black Britons live on the margins of society because they feel a sense of abandonment and alienation. This leads directly to a collapse in aspiration. Many young black men are suffering from an identity crisis, and don't know how much of themselves they have to give up in order to feel British.

"Beyond this, the collapse of family values has gripped many young black men. I was raised by a single mother, and I don't believe that a single mother can raise a boy to manhood. No family is complete without a masculine voice and presence."

Simon Wooley National co-ordinator, Operation Black Vote

"We need to be clear that racism still thrives in the UK, and the depiction of young black men as criminals is part of that. Black people are still seen as inferior by most people who aren't black. They are still much less likely to get a job than their white counterparts. They tend to be born into deprivation. And deprivation can breed criminality.

The government has openly admitted that black people still face sustained discrimination within the criminal justice system, for example. It's the combination of racial inequality and social inequality that has brought us to our current situation. Black people are unique in suffering heavily from both. When the two combine it's a massive problem: there is an added dynamic of deprivation when it comes to race. If we're to move on from this situation, black people must be the agents of change. We have to break the cycle of exclusion and start creating opportunities. We need black people to have the same chances as everyone else in terms of getting jobs and houses. Incentivising marriage through the welfare system is a total red herring: poverty is the problem, not single-parent families.

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