Gordon Brown: Madiba taught us how to live – and act – in hope

Comment

Share
Related Topics

For many of us born in the second half of the 20th century, the anti-apartheid struggle was the defining political question of our time.

It is hard to conjure now just how the blood ran cold when we saw pictures of 12-year-old Hector Pieterson dying in the arms of another student during the Soweto Uprising; or how we felt when we read that Steve Biko had died in police custody. These were not simply news reports for us – they were messages from our extended family, reports of friends we may have never met, but whose fate was bound with ours.

This oppression in South Africa did not simply define how one felt about the tyranny of racism, but summoned us to answer how we felt about hope itself. Because the anti-apartheid movement asked us not simply for our outrage – but for our solidarity. It called us not to live in hope but to act in hope – to believe that no injustice will last forever if people of good conscience are prepared to stand up and speak out.

I remember there were those who opposed sanctions or even wore "hang Mandela T-shirts", but the majority of British people can be very proud of their role the struggle, whether through boycotting South African products, supporting sanctions, protesting in Trafalgar Square, joining the concert protests or in thousands of different ways adding their voices to the cries of those in townships and jails a continent away.

My first frontline involvement in the anti-apartheid campaign was as editor of our campus newspaper almost 40 years ago at Edinburgh University. Through a painstaking investigation we exposed the University's shares in apartheid South Africa, and eventually forced their sale. So many of us could tell similar stories – of the rugby matches boycotted, the holidays not taken, the petitions signed.

The contribution of the British people – the trades unions, the student movement, the Liberal and Labour Parties, the ordinary shoppers who did their bit – all of it should never be forgotten.

It was this story I carried with me when I met Nelson Mandela – Madiba – for the first time. He turned to me with a smile, and pointed: "Ah, representative of the British Empire!" It was typical of the man; forgiving, playful, utterly gracious and with a generosity of spirit that lifts the world.

One day we will explain to our children why so many streets, student union buildings, council chambers, town squares and children in Britain are named after this man from so far away. We will tell them about a great uprising of hope – a time when the British people stood up for justice, and we prevailed.

And so the lesson of the South African struggle is surely that change never comes without a fight, but when we fight, progressives can change the course of history. That is exactly the lesson we should heed as we tackle the great global causes of today; poverty, climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation. Thirty years ago today nobody would ever have believed that apartheid would crumble, but 20 years ago today Nelson Mandela walked into the sunlight a free man. The story of the campaign for his release – like that of Aung San Suu Kyi who remains oppressed today – is that while the road to justice is long, nobody need ever walk it alone.

Change comes to those with the courage to will it; 20 years from now let people say this generation created a decade not of austerity, but shared prosperity, not of conflict, not of peace, not of inequality and climate chaos, but of sustainable development in the interests of all.

The anti-apartheid struggle shows what can be done when people come together to build a better world; there is nothing to do now, but begin.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

John Noakes was everyone’s favourite presenter in the 1970s. It’s a shock to realise the eternal boy scout is now an octogenarian suffering from dementia  

How remarkable that John Noakes still has the power to affect me so

Matthew Norman
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy