Letters: Mandela taught us to do the right thing

These letters were published in the Saturday 7 December edition of the Independent

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Nelson Mandela was uncompromising in his belief in and pursuit of freedom, equality and justice, and followed this pursuit with dignity, grace, strength and humility.

He did more than bring about the end of apartheid; he became a paragon for the whole world; to all peoples who are involved in political or religious rivalry, to all individuals who are in the midst of personal tragedy – depression, grief, poverty, oppression – he is or should be a beacon for the ages.

What he taught is to see beyond paltriness and shadiness and always do the thing that we know is right. Mandela realised this. He always saw the bigger picture and embodied the  most difficult of Christian precepts; he extended the hand of friendship and love to his erstwhile enemies.

The world is a poorer place.

Stuart Russell


As we remember the great Nelson Mandela, it’s important for us Brits to remember what things were like in this country while he was still a political prisoner in South Africa. I remember my 20s as an anti-apartheid campaigner; and I remember vividly that Thatcher, then Conservative prime minister, labelled Mandela’s ANC a “typical terrorist organisation”.

 While we all now celebrate Mandela, at the time he and his brilliant freedom organisation were consistently attacked and undermined by the party which now, once again, is ruling this country: the Conservatives.

Rupert Read


If only the Palestinians had a Mandela, if only the Israelis had a De Klerk, and both peoples believed in ubuntu, the understanding that a person is a person through other people.

Martin Wright

London SW2


As the world hails Nelson Mandela for his humanity and forgiveness, I think it’s time for Barack Obama to pick up Mandela’s mantle. 

In the spirit of the man he admired so much, Obama should dismantle the Guantanamo facility in Cuba and release the 162 prisoners there, who have been badly mistreated and not been tried in any court of law. 

Guantanamo remains a blot on how the USA is viewed from here, and that spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness would be a first major step in ridding the US of its worldwide reputation for being an uncivilised country.

Dave Johnstone

Eridge Green, East Sussex

“The whole earth is the tomb of famous men.”

 – Pericles.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey


Business rate reform must go farther

As announced at the Autumn Statement, the rates discount for small retailers will be welcome news, although it should have gone a step further (James Moore, 6 December). Small retailers will not, on their own, regenerate the high streets.

The Government needs to recognise that retail space in most high streets is not as valuable as it once was and will never recover, except within major shopping centres. We need a significant reduction in business rates for all town centres if they are to revive.

Otherwise there needs to be a concerted effort to change the use of some retail areas, perhaps to residential, or our town centres are to be condemned to having more charity shops and empty buildings – neither of which pay business rates anyway.

By regenerating our town centres and secondary shopping areas, the Government will be able collect more rates, not less.

Peter Burgess

Managing Director, Retail Human Resources plc

London W9


Digital autopsies can’t match the knife

Your article (27 November) reports that the new digital autopsy centre in Sheffield will revolutionise the investigation of unnatural deaths and will minimise delays in releasing the body of the deceased for burial or cremation, and improve the accuracy of results.

I am afraid the current published data fails to support these assertions. In 2012 the largest study of post-mortem imaging yet undertaken was published in The Lancet (Roberts et al., vol. 379, p136-142). This found that the discrepancy rate between the “gold standard” of a conventional open autopsy and an imaging autopsy was as high as 30 per cent, even when both MRI and CT scanning were performed.

In cases where the consultant radiologists involved were certain of the cause of death following imaging, they were still incorrect in 16 per cent of cases. The most frequent imaging errors involved the most common causes of death; namely ischaemic heart disease, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and intra-abdominal lesions.

With regard to speed of the result, it is my experience that most conventional autopsy examinations provide the family with a cause of death the same day as the autopsy is undertaken.

I seek to highlight these points not because of any personal opposition to autopsy imaging but to provide evidence that such autopsies currently are not as accurate as the conventional form of examination, and families whose loved ones have such an examination must be prepared for a high proportion to be unable to provide an accurate cause of death.

I would also be interested to know if the imaging centre in Sheffield can provide their service for the £96.80 autopsy pathologists current receive per case.

Dr Mark R Howard

Consultant Histopathologist and Autopsy Pathologist for Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for the City of Brighton and Hove


Segregation on campus

When is a woman in Britain no longer accepted as an equal citizen, able to take part in public life on the same terms as a man?

The answer is: when she is viewed through the eyes of someone whose mindset is steeped in a religious tradition that abhors the idea; and whenever that person is given the privilege to wield an “it’s my religion – get out of the way” card to impose this sentiment on the rest of society.

The cowardly and mindless decision by Universities UK to accommodate some religious speakers’ preference for gender-segregated seating for audiences is a clear example of why we need a secular society that can balance and protect the rights of all citizens, religious or not, fairly and equally. 

As long as freedom of religion is valued higher than our freedom from it, we can expect to see more attempts at eroding our democratic values.

Let’s hope Scottish universities will not become afflicted with the same memory loss regarding the definition of gender equality and its universal application in public life.

Veronica Wikman



Worrying staff levels at free schools

After much endeavour I have finally managed to track down the figures the DfE hold on free school staff. Even though they initially told me that they did not hold this data, as free schools were “autonomous public bodies”, it seems now that they do.

The figures do reveal some worrying facts about free schools. Firstly of the 88 that are on the DfE records 12 have provided no data whatsoever. Of the remainder, 36 have 100 per cent QTS trained staff. Of the rest the figures vary widely, with one school recording just 47 per cent QTS.

What is even more worrying is the huge disparity in pupil/teacher ratios, given that public money is being thrown at these schools at the expense of local authority schools in the same area. One school reports a PTR of just five pupils per member of staff, 10 of them are in single figures and yet one is reporting a PTR of 48.

The figures show standards of provision varying widely from school to school, with no overarching intellectual framework apart from “free means good”.

Simon G Gosden

Rayleigh, Essex


Caesarean baby should go home

I fear that the media reporting on the Essex baby case is focusing too much attention on the caesarean section and not enough on the future of the child.

A child born in the UK to a mother who is here and ill temporarily, and is normally resident in a different EU country should be repatriated to that country so that local social services can work with the family for the benefit of all concerned. Our family courts appear to think that we should kidnap the child just because it happened to be born here.

Nigel Scott

London N22

Fear that dare not speak its name

Hats off to Tom Daley for not concealing his homosexuality. But, as Owen Jones says (3 December), it really shouldn’t be news. Another person’s sexual orientation need be of no particular interest unless you’re contemplating bedding them. Perhaps it’s a subliminal fear of their own nature that causes some homophobes to be so vocal?

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire