Thursday 19 December 2013

In Defiance

Peter Wilby writes:

The influx of world leaders and international celebrities for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service and funeral must be straining South Africa’s resources.

Perhaps the poor folk in Soweto and elsewhere feel pride that so many great figures arrived to pay homage. But it is rather patronising of us to assume that is so. I suspect they would prefer the money to be spent on improved housing, schools, health services and water supplies and would see these as a better memorial to Mandela.

What a pity that, in his last will and testament, the great man didn’t insist that his funeral was for South Africans only and instruct the Camerons, Obamas, Winfreys and Bonos to miss out on a giant photo opportunity and stay at home. Judging by the singing during speeches at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, many ordinary South Africans would have approved.

Mandela, whether or not he was a saint, was above all a politician, capable of reversing long-held principles when necessary. Consider, for example, the remarkably hasty rehabilitation of South African cricket. For years, the anti-apartheid movement, supported by the African National Congress (ANC), battled to isolate South Africa and stop overseas teams going there.

The ANC rejected the argument that sport was separate from politics. Even when the government grudgingly allowed racially mixed teams, the ANC said that while apartheid remained in the wider society, non-whites could not compete on equal terms. There could be “no normal sport in an abnormal society”.

After his release, Mandela himself lobbied for South Africa’s readmission to international cricket and sent ANC officials to Lord’s to plead its case. Success came in July 1991, only weeks after the main pillars of apartheid law were repealed and with democratic elections still three years away.

Before the end of the year, South Africa was playing internationals against India. The largely white team, with token non-whites, was almost identical to the one that played an English rebel touring team, led by Mike Gatting (now president designate of the MCC), in 1990, amid mass protests. Mandela’s political goal was to secure white assent to a peaceful handover of power.

“Sport is sport and quite different from politics,” he explained, in defiance of everything anti-apartheid activists had said for 30 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment