Today South Africa is holding a day of prayer and reflection for President Nelson Mandela following his death yesterday. Like the rest of the world I too reflected on his great life and momentous achievements.
I recalled seeing him speak in London in 2003 at the British Red Cross Humanity Lecture. Mandela looked smaller than I imagined as he walked past and seemingly frail as he was helped onto the stage. After a ten minute wait for the applause to die down he started to speak - the illusion of fragility left the stage and a lion remained. Mandela opened and closed with praise for the work of the Red Cross “Not only does the Red Cross hold a special place in our collective sense of ourselves as a globally caring community; to me personally, and those who shared the experience of being political prisoners, the Red Cross was a beacon of humanity within the dark inhumane world of political imprisonment” and “For almost one and a half centuries the International Red Cross had stood as such an organ of international and multilateral co-operation. To be here with you is a proud affirmation of the values of global co-operation and respect for the basic human rights of all, irrespective of all social or national differences. We salute you and join with you in this quest for human solidarity and caring”
In between he harangued and berated the Western leaders about the war in Iraq. “The Geneva Conventions and its successor conventions, grown out of the International Red Cross, continue to remind us most forcefully of our common obligation to care for each other even, and particularly, in conditions that foster behaviour to the contrary. These conventions are a call to caring multilateralism. They tell us, more powerfully than all the political treaties, of the strength of multilateralism and international consensus. We have found ourselves compelled to speak out strongly in recent months against the rise of unilateralism in world affairs. We publicly and in private expressed our sharp differences on this matter with Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, both young leaders whom we otherwise hold in high regard. The differences we have on this matter, particularly as manifested in the war against Iraq, are not simply issues of political difference. I am a retired old man, without any office or political influence or any desire to such office or influence. I have lived through almost the entire twentieth century, in a country and continent where we had to devote almost all of that life to struggling against a social and political legacy left by events of the nineteenth century. To see young political leaders of the developed world in the twenty-first century act in ways that undermine some of the noblest attempts of humanity to deal with those historical legacies, pains me greatly and makes me worry immensely about our future. That is the nature of my difference with them and my criticism against them. In a world still so grossly unequal, both in material terms and in terms of power and influence, our hope for orderly co-existence lies in global co-operation and an uncompromising multilateral approach to dealing with our problems, conflicts, differences and challenges.”
It was incredible, while I saw the gentle smiling Mandela I expected, I also got to see the untamed lion roaring. Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela. Thank You.