You wouldn’t wish Nelson Mandela died every day. Least of all it would mean that the task of unpicking his achievement’s rests with politicians. How uneasy it has looked for David Cameron and George Osbourne to speak sympathetically about South Africa’s first black President. Their eulogies have added to the considered and reflective tributes that continue to feature across broadcast media this week. At his address to the British public on Thursday night, Cameron talked of ‘A man who suffered so much for freedom and justice’, an acknowledgement of Mandela ending apartheid and uniting his country after a bloody racial hegemony.
Few can imagine the type of personal sacrifice required to commit to a struggle that once vilified racial equality and only absolves past indiscretions after 27 years of incarceration. That select group will always be one for whom David Cameron is unlikely to chair. Believe who you will about Dave’s ‘fact finding’ trip to South Africa in 1989, but the very fact that he has since apologised for his parties mistakes with the ANC, is a sure summation that he and much of his party was on the wrong side of the struggle.
The historical significance of Mandela‘s life is quickly being turned into a posthumous narrative that sees him as the greatest politician of the 20th century. George Osbourne cuts a figure far removed from struggle of any kind and further down the list of competent politicians in the 21st century. His latest financial predictions eschew the idea that financial inequality in Britain remains a growing problem. It is painfully unjust that the human story that touches hearts and minds across the world is being interrupted by those (like Osbourne) who continue to leave them weak and narrow. With character and charm Mandela led his people to freedom and guiding them on a course to the imperfect but important democracy was an unforgiving personal journey. In the weeks ahead those at Whitehall won’t be asking themselves what would Nelson do? but they would do well to try and act as though their ‘struggles’ were planned by such a thought.
In truth, rich conservatives have gained nothing from sticking to a tight script of praise and admiration for a man they once viewed as a criminal. Their sentiments are not viewed sincerely and never will be. That is the cost of failing to shed light on controversial excursions to apartheid South Africa – an indictment of democracy only outdone by Mr. Osboune losing sight of his nation’s finances. The political rift’s and personal conflicts that Mandela had with Britain prior to a post colonial South Africa are disappearing from modern memory. Shame on those who take to television and radio to spin a story of grief as a personal headline, when it is only an aside to cover themselves from a story of wrongdoing.
On the other side of the Atlantic, President Obama made a legitimate claim to being inspired by Mandela when he spoke of attending his first anti-apartheid protest. Though it is difficult to suggest a direct cause and effect model is responsible for a black South African President in 1994 and a Black American President in 2008, there can be little doubt that history will ordain it so. With ever increasing regularity it is the struggle with his own conscience that Obama must master before he can ever be considered as worthy of mention in conversations of life-changing elder statesmen.