Over the coming hours and days there will be countless tributes to Nelson Mandela from people better placed to honour him than I ever could. It would seem remiss though, for the Executive of the Young Fabians, to not mark the passing of a political giant who represented hope to so many people.
As a young child, I grew up singing “Free Nelson Mandela” and his release and presidency are amongst my earliest political memories. On a basic level he was a part of my childhood – and I’m sure many of our members’. Despite the expectation, his death has affected me more than I could have anticipated, he meant so much to people he would never meet.
In a century of violent cycles, Mandela stood apart from so many – drawing a line in the sand, emphasising forgiveness over revenge. So often the oppressed have become oppressors, but Mandela was special in knowing that the pattern had to be broken. Few had better reason to express hatred than he did, yet he forged ahead, building a South Africa for its black, white, coloured and Asian population – a rainbow nation to show the world there was a better way.
Mandela was so much of his time and place, yet speaks to the future and all nations. He was a Christian who inspired people of all religions and none. He stood in the socialist tradition but rose above politics. He was a black African who spoke to Africans of all colours, to people around the world who fight oppression but seek unity once that battle is won.
On a personal level, I can feel no grief for the passing of a man of such vision at a fine age. My overwhelming emotion is gratitude. I am thankful for his life, thankful for his message to the world – it sounds silly but in all honesty; I am grateful to have lived at a time that Nelson Mandela was alive. He stands amongst the greatest men and women of history.
On behalf of the Young Fabian Executive I will be sending a card to the South African High Commission - in solidarity with the South African people and in gratitude to that beautiful nation’s gift to the world. RIP Nelson Mandela.
James Hallwood is Chair of the Young Fabians