Friday the 1st of October marked the beginning of Black History Month: a celebration of those who have impacted not just the country but the world with their activism and achievements.
2020 was an incredibly turbulent year. The murder of George Floyd on the 25th of May inspired thousands of people in Britain to demand justice, marching through our streets. So George did not die in vain, we must honour his memory and the memories of many like him whose lives were ended prematurely because of the colour of their skin. Despite all the conflict and negativity this year I want to take this opportunity to share a story about a Black leader from history that has inspired me.
I have deep South African roots – my Mum was born in South Africa in the dark days of apartheid. She was one of millions who campaigned against the racist legislation and oppression. I am sure many of you are familiar with the story of Nelson Mandela. He spent 27 long years imprisoned on Robben Island: his punishment for campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela emerged from prison on the 2nd February 1990, victorious and strong.
Madiba as he was affectionately known, forgave his oppressors. There is a word in South Africa, Ubuntu: a word that captured Mandela greatest gift – showing compassion, unselfishness, respect, courage, empathy and perseverance. Regardless of race, gender or creed we find ourselves by sharing ourselves with others
In a strange sort of way I owe my life to him. In the hay day of apartheid my parents would never have met. My mum, being black South African, was not allowed to go to the same school, visit the same beaches or even use the same buses as my Dad, who is white. A year after his release, all racist laws were repealed. All South Africans were finally free.
Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) as a student. Initially the party believed in a non-violent struggle for equality. In its early days, the ANC planned peaceful protests, boycotts and acts of sabotage. After the security forces shot and killed 69 peaceful demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960 (many of them shot in the back as they fled), the ANC decided that an armed struggle was the only solution to overthrowing the racist regime. In 1963, Mandela and his colleagues targeted military and government institutions, and he was eventually arrested for his role in the armed group and imprisoned for nearly three decades.
As he was elected to his presidency in 1994, he had to face the reality of leading those he had fought against for years; those who had imprisoned him, tortured his people, and committed horrible atrocities against the Black majority. He will always be remembered for his perseverance, his humility and his unwavering courage.
I hope that many of you will learn and maybe even be inspired by prominent figures in Black History this month. Thank you.