Today the world is waking up to the news that Nelson Mandela passed away aged 95. The world has truly lost one of its heroes.
My first memory of hearing his name was in 1983 when I was at University. I remember someone giving me a flyer inviting me to a meeting. The headline read “Free Nelson Mandela”. It was a simple statement which hooked me and set in motion a train of events, which for me would have a lasting impact.
This was the beginning of an international movement to overthrow apartheid in South Africa and the message was simple – “Free Nelson Mandela and free the people of South Africa”. He became the emotional symbol of the whole anti-apartheid movement. The message grew as the African National Congress (ANC) mounted its world campaign.
The results where incredible and, in my view, unprecedented in our time. Led by the Commonwealth and backed by the ANC, the movement grew around the key message. It was emotive, emotional and felt real. Mandela pulled the strings from inside his prison cell and masterminded a global movement which resulted in world sanctions against the government, mass demonstrations around the world and, as they say, the rest is history. On his release he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize alongside FW de Klerk in 1993 and became the first freely elected president of South Africa in 1994. But more than that, for those of us who believed in justice, freedom and equality, he became a truly global ambassador.
For me looking back I find in remarkable that such a campaign could have gained such momentum and moved so many people around the world to action. Listening to President Obama today, he said, “the fight against apartheid was one of my first political experiences”, it demonstrates the point that the messages and emotional connection generated from it had something that touched us. What is astonishing is this was all done at a time when we did not have twitter, Facebook, the internet or mobile phones.
How was it possible? For me it was the last and perhaps the only campaign in my lifetime to capture the hearts and minds of the world and actually succeed. It was a campaign that involved direct action and participation on a scale not seen since. Only two other campaigns spring to mind in acting as a catalyst on anywhere near this scale - “Feed the World” and “Find Maddie”.
So today I will light my candle and we will keep it alight until the great man is laid to rest next week. This was the symbol that was used by the ANC to show their support for him when he was in prison and seems a fitting tribute.