In a world without heroes, Nelson Mandela remains the one true moral giant. It is not only that he managed the transition to majority rule in South Africa without rancour or revenge against the oppressors of the blacks, nor that he achieved the almost impossible in presenting to the world a new South Africa that combined economic pragmatism with national pride. It is that he has been able since he left power as South Africa's first president to tour the world as a statesman with the authority and experience to lift terms of debate on to a level of principle and moral duty.
All the more important therefore, that on a visit to London to unveil a statue to himself in London, Mandela yesterday used that authority to urge black leaders to do as he has done, which is to use his public profile and position to step into deprived communities and influence the outcome for their youngsters. High achievers, he argues, cannot divorce themselves from the backgrounds from which they may themselves have escaped. It is their responsibility to go out and use their influence to better the prospects of those left behind.
It's a particularly resonant intervention as it comes just as the latest gun killing has given new urgency to the debate about urban deprivation and gang culture in our cities. Earlier this month a Reach report argued that black teenagers need a new generation of role models while the Tory leader, David Cameron, renewed his attack on the values of music and drink. Urgent pleadings by successful black businessmen and public officials won't turn round a culture but they can help, particularly when urged on by a figure of Mandela's stature.Reuse content