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My Nelson Mandela memory
December 09, 2013

This has nothing directly to do with the man but instead concerns the distant memories stirred by his death - of my experiences of South Africa. In 1970 and just graduated I achieved a very prestigious fellowship (yes I had a glittering future once upon a time) which placed me in an African country as a local civil servant. The scheme is still going forty years later but at that time all placements were to ex colonial African countries and I went to Swaziland - a tiny jewel of a country on the eastern edge of South Africa. Thus in the space of 60 miles (the width of the country) there were four distinct bands going north to south – from the high veldt in the west, to the middle veldt, to the low veldt and then an escarpment before reaching Mozambique and a few short miles to the Indian ocean.

And to the west of this paradise (of course it was not really so) lay a dark, brooding and menacing place called South Africa. You had to go through South Africa to get to Swaziland and we travelled and holidayed there so we (my wife and I) saw and felt the place. It was beautiful, sensationally so – but it stank of oppression and fear and inhumanity. We always breathed a sigh of relief when we crossed back into Swaziland.

Of course with hindsight, the fall of the Berlin wall did for apartheid as the west could no longer justify defending it. But amongst whites, there must have been a terrible fear of the retribution that could be visited upon them as they contemplated the inhumanity and cruelty of their treatment of non-whites. Yet Mandela’s humanity and prestige seems to have avoided this.

best wishes

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Andrew Richardson

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