There has been a book awaiting my attention for a few years now, waiting on the right moment. The time, I think has come.
After reading Feargal Keane’s fine obituary I remember various pivotal moments, local ones. I remember the re-naming of the street in Glasgow where the South African Embassy then had its offices. And I remember the post office refusing to deliver mail to those offices; and the South Africans bailing out, from Nelson Mandela Place. And I remember the time he came, a freedman, to the city to accept the Freedom of the City of Glasgow, an honour bestowed upon him a dozen years earlier when still incarcerated; the first city in the world to grant him the keys.
And I’ll remember too those Tories calling for Mandela to be hung, as they campaigned against sanctions for the vile state that South Africa then was. Terrorist, I think was the term used by Maggie.
Who can forget Mandela in the rugby shirt of The Springboks, awarding the World Cup, to a nation excluded from the sporting stage for a generation, to the white man in the same shirt captaining his team. Some did suggest that bans had continued beyond the apartheid years on the grounds of being too good; too good at rugby and too good at cricket. But the sports are much richer now for their inclusion; thanks to Nelson Mandela. And the teams are evolving, from a policy of a mandatory coloured member, to selection purely on merit, from all races. Mandela wore some other shirts too, colourful and bright, but none with the impact of the green and gold.
This was the man who approved of Scotland’s releasing of Megrahi from prison, having played a significant role in negotiating the holding of the long-delayed trial itself; and who opposed Blair’s illegal war with Iraq. He visited Megrahi, both at prison in Glasgow, and at his home in Libya, after the release.
It’s a book I’ll be picking up soon; and playing quietly in the background there will tracks from Bob Marley, Ibrahim Abdullah too. The time has come.
And to finish with another local aspect, I will remember too, sadly, the words spoken on the night of his death:
His legacy is the capacity of people to govern themselves, and make the right decisions in their own interests.
It seems that Margaret Curran MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Unionist and campaigner for Better Together, may have forgotten her irony tablet. But the right to govern themselves. Years it was that she actively voted to deny us the right even to have a say at all; whilst now she does her best to ensure that self governance is not for us. I think I know what Mandela might want for Scotland tomorrow, despite folk like Magrit.
The inspiration, about people governing themselves, fairly and equally, that’s his legacy. Those words won’t be forgotten, though our battles may be slight beside those faced by Mandela.
He inspired many. Magrit and Maggie too, it seems, despite themselves. Now, where did I put that book? What a man.