No one of my generation could let the death of Nelson Mandela pass without comment. In my lifetime there have been two giants on the world stage. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi. Ghandi was from a previous era and, so, left less of an impression on me. However, I read somewhere that when he came to England during winter in the late 1940’s, clad only in something resembling a bath towel, he was asked what he thought of Western civilisation. His reported response was that he thought that it would be a good idea! With such quiet but devastating humour do some people deal with patronising comments. To me it demonstrates an inner strength and security which is what probably enables them to deal with situations in the way that they do. In their cases, directly facing up the brute force that governments can bring to bear on those who oppose them, for no personal gain whatsoever. In fact, at enormous personal cost; in Nelson Mandela’s case, nearly one third of his life in prison. In fact, the exact opposite. As someone who hates being separated from his family, I can only imagine the resolve that that must have taken, especially when it is only with hindsight that we know that it was only (only?) 27 years. In other circumstances, it could have been considerably longer. Does anyone doubt that he would have had the resolve to see it through?
Both these men seem to have had a humility, on ordinariness that the rest of us relate to in a way that we don’t to others with great power. Amply demonstrated, in Mandela’s case, with an incident recalled by Peter Hain. The former government minister was meeting the great man and happened to mention that his mother was in hospital with a broken femur. Mr Mandela insisted on speaking to her using Peter Hain’s mobile phone. On getting through, he said, ”It’s Nelson Mandela. Do you remember me?”
Which, in my usual roundabout way, brings me to my point. How is it that those who are truly great, the giants that occasionally visit us on this Earth able to retail a sense of humility and humanity, when many of those who strive for power, do not? Maybe it is that they are truly great, although I believe that many people have within themselves that ability. I think that it is that humility and humanity that they manage to retain despite the power that they attain. The rest of us may be smaller in comparison but we do recognise those qualities in the same way that we recognise fraudulence in others who exercise power or aspire to. You know who you are unless the biggest fraud is one that you enact upon yourself.
Which also brings me to my last point which is that, why do, seemingly intelligent men and the occasional women, behave so stupidly at times? And, yes, I know that we all do, it’s just that we don’t usually do it so knowingly and with such forethought. In this respect, unless someone else buys it for me, I plan to myself a Xmas present, a book entitled, “The Blunders of our Governments”. In one particular instance, it mentions Nicholas Ridley, a government minister of the time who, when being warned about the dangers of the Poll Tax and how poor people would not be able to afford to pay it, said, “Can’t they just sell a painting”.
Now Mr Mandela and Mr Ghandi may have visited us from other planets but such as Mr Ridley, actually lived on one.