Nelson mandela

Elizabeth II’s devotion to the Commonwealth

It’s a question which would inevitably surface during any serious discussion of Queen Elizabeth II: who was her favourite prime minister? Unlike her grandfather, George V, who was clear that he favoured Ramsay MacDonald (and told him so), or George VI, for whom Winston Churchill was the clear winner, Elizabeth II always kept us guessing. Was she, too, a Churchill devotee? Some say she harboured a greater fondness for her first Labour PM, Harold Wilson, and not just because he was good company and shielded her from the republican wrath of his own MPs. He did not, unlike Churchill, outstay his welcome but timed his resignation to divert attention from

Homage to Sydney Kentridge, South Africa’s courtroom giant

Sydney Kentridge, the protagonist of Thomas Grant’s superb legal saga The Mandela Brief, is that trickiest of biographical subjects: a great man. Grant acknowledges ‘it is rare that, on closer acquaintance, a person touted as a “great” man or woman conforms to the initial description’, but the South African lawyer has been described by countless barristers as the greatest courtroom advocate they had ever seen. Notable for the apartheid cases he conducted as a defence lawyer of especial distinction and passion, Kentridge has also been admired for his calm and assured bearing in court. The Observer praised him in 1968 as having ‘the face and bearing of an upper-class Regency

When it comes to Africa, the media look away

Kenya We were flown around the country, hovering low over mobs using machetes to hack each other up Each time I sit in St Bride’s on Fleet Street during the memorial of another friend, I look around at the crowds they’ve been able to pull in and feel terribly envious. Riffling through the order of service and then the church’s book of correspondents to find the faces of old comrades, I’m like a man wondering if any guests will bother turning up to one’s own hastily arranged bring-a-bottle party. Our 1990s generation of Nairobi hacks has been severely depleted. While we survivors are not a distillation of complete bastards, it’s

What’s behind the South African riots?

South Africa is ablaze once more. In the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal (formerly Natal) and Gauteng (which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria), the cities are burning. Shops and businesses have been turned to ashes; trucks are on fire; mobs of excited young men are smashing and looting; a Durban ambulance, trying to take a critically ill patient to hospital, was attacked; in the middle of a crippling Covid-19 lockdown, pharmacies have been plundered and vaccination sites have been suspended; motorways have been closed; over 70 people have been killed. The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has called out the army. These rioting young men lead wretched lives, mainly because of the ANC

Words to rally and inspire

It was a surprise, on reading Speeches of Note, to find myself laughing and chuckling at the speech of a Kentucky congressman of whom I’d never heard on a subject of little interest to the rest of the world. Yet it is such a gem of effective persuasion, brilliant construction and escalating hilarity that I happily went over it again. The speaker was James Proctor Knott in 1871, opposing the use of federal land in his district for a new railroad that would terminate in the backwater of Duluth. He did so by means of an exaggerated and sarcastic description of the wonders of that little town. Duluth, he explained,

In praise of braindead filth

Melvyn Bragg on TV: The Box That Changed The World (BBC2, Saturday) was just what you would have expected of a critical appreciation of 75 years of TV, filmed at Bafta and presented by one of the BBC’s pre-eminent house luvvies. As an antidote I had to switch over to ITV2 to watch Love Island. Yes, I hate Love Island too — every episode leaves me feeling soiled. It’s a mating game show, in which couples compete to shag one another in Majorca for a £50,000 prize, and, with ratings of around 1.7 million, it’s probably the most talked about programme on TV, which fashionable people are pretending to enjoy

Saintly sins

They say that the devil gets all the best tunes, and on the basis of this week’s opera-going it would be hard to disagree. Performances by Cape Town Opera and Opera Rara turned their attention on two historical icons: South Africa’s anti-apartheid campaigner and president Nelson Mandela, and ancient Assyria’s murderous and would-be incestuous queen regent Semiramis. No prizes for guessing who came out on top. When it comes to art, evil takes it nearly every time. Who wouldn’t choose The Rake’s Progress over The Pilgrim’s Progress, Don Giovanni over Don Ottavio, sex over sanctity? For a good man, Nelson Mandela has inspired a lot of really, really bad art.

The halo slips

Peter Popham is commendably quick off the blocks with this excellent account of the run-up to last November’s Burmese general election, in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept the board. At the time of writing this review, Suu is taking four ministries, including foreign affairs. So she will do what she did during her years of house arrest — offer a beautiful human face to the outside world of a country still under the heel of the generals. Popham seems to enjoy Burma and to understand it as much as any westerner can. Notwithstanding recent liberalisation, Burma is perhaps the second weirdest state on earth after

Lost in translation | 31 March 2016

Trencherman was first published in Afrikaans in 2006 and translated into English for a South African readership shortly afterwards, but has only now found a UK publisher. Eben Venter — one of the notable voices in white South African writing post-Apartheid — has been ‘temporarily’ based in Australia for more than two decades, but returns to his home for stories. You can see why. After Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee emigrated to Australia — and hasn’t published a decent novel since. He evacuated his subject. For Africa-born whites, the one thing worse than staying is leaving. The left brain urges you to settle in a safe economy with prospects, where the right

Why wasn’t the head of Hamas properly cross-examined during his BBC interview?

When journalists have the much sought after opportunity to interview the heads of states and organisations with appalling human rights records the very least we expect is to see such people given a thorough cross-examining. What we don’t expect is for heads of terrorist organisations to be provided with a platform from which to give the equivalent of a party political broadcast and to get away with it virtually unchallenged.  And yet that is precisely what we got when the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen recently interviewed Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas. Hamas leader Meshaal warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after elections, reads the baffling headline that accompanies Bowen’s

Assisted suicide is too close to murder to be legal

How amazing to have two former Anglican archbishops, George Carey of Canterbury and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, supporting Lord Falconer’s bill to legalise assisted suicide! It has always been, and remains, a firm doctrine of the Church of England that it is wrong to take a life. Yet here are two Church leaders agreeing with a majority of Britons — more than 80 per cent, according to the polls — that it should be legal for a doctor to supply a suffering, terminally ill patient with a lethal dose of poison if he wants it. Lord Carey said that in changing his mind on this issue he had been

Is democracy flourishing in South Africa?

This week South Africa has held events to mark 20 years of democracy. Simon Jenkins, writing after the first election that included black people, was deeply moved: Democracy is an unromantic ideology, but the old girl can still draw a tear. I have never witnessed a political event to compare with the South African election, not even the fall of the Berlin Wall. The silent queues snaking for miles across bush and township were mesmeric…Streets that saw gunfights, burnt homes and necklaced corpses were graced with orderly lines in their Sunday best… Twenty-five million blacks got up one morning, and decided to put their faith in democracy. Nobody foretold this.

What a lost prison manuscript reveals about the real Nelson Mandela

This is a story about Nelson Mandela, and it begins on Robben Island in 1974. Prisoner number 466/64 is writing up his life story, working all night and sleeping all day.  Finished pages go to trusted comrades who write comments and queries in the margins. The text is then passed to one Laloo Chiba, who transcribes it in ‘microscopic’ letters on to sheets of paper which are later inserted into the binding of notebooks and carried off the island by Mac Maharaj when he is released in 1976. Outside, the intrepid Mac turns the microscopic text into a typescript and sends it to London, where it becomes the Higgs boson

Rod Liddle: Try my new year resolution – ignore the internet

At last, it has been scientifically proved that Jesus Christ is better than Muhammad. We’d always known that our lad with the beard and the holes in his hands was far superior to that arriviste Arabian chap who hung around in caves. But tell that to a Muslim and they become unaccountably frosty and defensive. Now, though, a couple of scientists have used algorithms and quantitative analysis to prove that Jesus Christ was the most significant and important human being ever to have lived, while poor old Muhammad managed to slink in at number four: Champions League spot, sure, but no cigar. The Prophet was beaten by both Napoleon Bonaparte —

World leaders pay tribute to Mandela… with a selfie

Where were you when the world remembered Nelson Mandela? David Cameron, Barack Obama and Helle Thorning Schmidt will always be able to answer that question with their memorial service selfie, snapped in the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg today. Michelle Obama seemed oddly reluctant to join in.

What did you do in the struggle, daddy? The real story of Nelson Mandela and the communists

Reading the obituaries last Friday, one was left with impression that Nelson Mandela’s only flaws were fastidiousness and a tendency to flirt with every pretty girl he met. Otherwise, he was exemplary in every respect, and of course a human right activist in the exactly the sense that Western liberals find winsome and cuddly. ‘Flawless,’ said Archbishop Tutu. ‘One of the true giants,’ said Blair.  Even the Tory Cameron could barely contain himself, describing Mandela as ‘the embodiment of grace.’  You had to have sharp ears to hear the discordant note struck by Johannesburg’s Business Day, which a ran a front-page story headlined, ‘South African Communist Party admits Mandela was

Jimmy Carter talks sense about the late Nelson Mandela

Rod Liddle’s observation about the death of Nelson Mandela, cut off, alas, at the age of 95, hardly needs supplementing but I was struck by one aspect of the blanket coverage, viz, its quasi-religious character. The Mirror, the day after the sad event, observed that Mr Mandela was as near as we get in this fallen world to a saint. And this morning, the Today programme brought the thing to its logical conclusion when one presenter, Justin Webb posed the question (1.15): given the moral example of Nelson Mandela, ‘why is the world not a better place?’ So it was over for an answer to former US president Jimmy Carter,

Nelson Mandela gave us the greatest gift of all: Hope

Sometimes when a significant public figure dies, even, perhaps especially, when that death comes as no surprise and may, indeed, be considered some form of release there is a natural tendency to wonder if the blanket media coverage that invariably follows is altogether appropriate or even seemly. Is it not all too much? A man is merely a man; a woman merely a woman. Sometimes too, it is natural to react to the endless parade of tributes and wonder how genuine they really are. Is there not something vainglorious about them? Is there not something a little ridiculous about all these attempts to cling to the coat-tails of greatness? Perhaps

In pictures: Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Adopting a boxing pose in 1950. Speaking in the early 1960s. After being sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia trial, Mandela and seven other men leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria 16 June 1964 with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car. Mandela and his wife Winnie raise their fists on his release from Victor Vester prison on 11 February, 1990. Mandela and South African President Frederik de Klerk with their Nobel Peace Prizes in 1993. Visiting his former Robben Island prison cell in 1995. Mandela congratulates François Pienaar after South Africa’s victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Celebrating his 90th

Nelson Mandela: South Africa’s Churchill

Like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela had one shining hour that eclipsed everything else and made the world better. Nelson Mandela belongs to a very rare class of great men.  Such men are remembered not only for their great deeds, not only for making our world better, but for bearing a special grace that transcends the business of their age.  They are the stuff of folklore. In the 20th century I can think of only two examples: Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. But even Gandhi was susceptible to pious humbug. ‘It takes a lot of money to keep Gandhi in poverty,’ said one of his advisers. Mandela was never seduced by the