Nelson Mandela was a rallying focus for any progressive thinker of my generation. I attended numerous events of which the aim was to free Nelson Mandela. I carried a torch through Edinburgh, danced round a bonfire in Dundee and talked to the startled tourists in Norwich cathedral, among other things.
That walk from prison came at a time when it seemed possible that the world would actually get better. Walls were coming down, liberty was in the air. All that was eventually to change and become a neo-con nightmare in Europe and a corruption nightmare in South Africa. I remember even in the early eighties wondering what Mandela was really like. How many people really knew him before he went to jail? Certainly none who were demonstrating with me. How had he managed to project a worldwide presence from decades inside a cell? There was a real danger he would turn out to be a hideous disappointment, to have feet of clay, like – well at the time like Winnie Mandela was the obvious fear.
Indeed the rest of the ANC were in power to prove corrupt, elitist and grabbing. I keep getting disappointed still. I was astonished to see a statement last year from Cyril Ramaphosa effectively supporting the police who shot striking miners. Mbeki had lost it before he took over. In Europe, Walesa was a nightmare in government, and Havel a neo-con tool. I never believed in Blair, but those who did were certainly deceived. The greatest disappointment of all, however, was Obama, who turned out to be a smoother and more obediently ruthless front for the Orwellian security state than George W. Bush
Mandela is the only political leader who never failed my faith. His philosophy and demeanour was Christ-like in its capacity for forgiveness and inclusion. He really was everything those millions around the world hoped as they demonstrated for the better world that would be symbolised through his release. The miracle of Mandela was that he never disappointed.