Mandela’s legacy: how to do right by those we love

It’s important the parade continues – but safely

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I’ve written a lot, since beginning this column, about religion, sexuality and a meddlesome government which wants to pay us to live our lives better.

I suppose my point has always been we should live and let live. That the best religions teach us to be nice to other people, try not to behave like idiots, and try not to judge other people for who they are.

I remember, back in 1990, when I was watching the news with my mum, asking her why everyone was happy that a man had been released from prison.

I asked her what he’d done.

‘He’s a political prisoner,’ she said.

I had no idea what that was, but it struck me as a bit odd that someone would be put in prison for their political views.

I wondered what possible harm could come from someone who – to my 10-year-old mind – just stood up in parliament, waffled on interminably, and then sat down again.

Now, of course, I know differently.

As head of the ANC and its armed wing – Umkhonto we Sizwe – that man, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned for 27 years as South Africa struggled through apartheid.

Mandela always said he should not be put on a pedestal, and he was right.

There was violence and there were deaths of innocent people, and that did not stop upon his release from prison.

But by working with the Afrikaan president FW de Klerk the future of South Africa unravelled, almost miraculously, as a place where black and white would not be segregated and could begin the long, long process of living together.

Both men were given the Nobel Peace Prize. Both men worked for the love of their country and their people. And both men did so without seeking revenge for past hurts.

If they hadn’t South Africa would be ringed by international trade embargoes, would probably be a communist state, and would almost certainly have descended into bloody civil war.

No one man is a god, but when Nelson Mandela died last Thursday the one thing I thought was that the world had lost someone who could teach us how to believe in who we are and try to do what’s right for those we love.