Mandela 'breathed fire' over Britain's role in Iraq

Nelson Mandela expressed fury to the British government over Britain's decision to join with the Americans in invading Iraq, it emerged yesterday.

The former South African president picked up the phone and called London to spell out his anger about the decision to join the US-led mission to topple Saddam Hussein.

He might be famed for his politeness, but in an extraordinary call to a member of Mr Blair's Cabinet, Peter Hain, Mr Mandela's angry feelings boiled over.

Diplomatic niceties were abandoned as he warned that Britain's reputation around the world would suffer "huge damage" because of the invasion and that all the Blair administration's good work in Africa would be forgotten.

Details of the call are disclosed in a new biography of Mr Mandela by Mr Hain, a long-standing friend who was Welsh Secretary at the time.

Mr Hain recalled: "He said: 'A big mistake, Peter, a very big mistake. It is wrong. Why is Tony doing this after all his support for Africa? This will cause huge damage internationally'."

He said last night that he had never encountered his old friend as angry as he was during that conversation: "He was virtually breathing fire down the phone on this and feeling a sense of betrayal."

He went on: "It wasn't a pre-planned call that I had been expecting. He was just put through by Downing Street. Because we were friends he was probably more frank with me than he would have been if he had been speaking with a prime minister or president."

Mr Hain added that Mr Mandela was particularly distressed and frustrated because he was an admirer of the Blair government's record in Africa, where it intervened in Sierra Leone, increased aid and campaigned for a ban on landmines.

"He just felt that all of this had been completely blown out of the water by the Iraq invasion," Mr Hain said. "It did not surprise me because many people felt the same way. I knew that the sort of constituency in Britain and the world that Nelson Mandela naturally spoke for felt that we had made the wrong decision.

"He is a supremely polite and diplomatic person, but at the same time very independently minded."

Mr Hain said: "I listened very carefully to what he had to say and I explained that I thought Tony was acting out of conviction."

The former minister said he relayed Mr Mandela's comments to Downing Street – and told Mr Blair in person about the tirade. "They knew the government was being assailed with criticism on all sides. It was one that was added to the pile," he said.

Mr Blair does not mention any such protests in his memoirs, maintaining that he got on well with Mr Mandela because he "treated him as a political leader, not as a saint".

Mr Mandela, a Nobel Peace laureate, was an outspoken critic of the war at the time, arguing that the sole reason for the US military action was to gain control of Iraq's oil reserves. He also ridiculed Mr Blair as the "US foreign minister" rather than the British Prime Minister.

Mandela: The Story of a Universal Hero, which includes a tribute by Mr Blair, is published today by Spruce.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there