Madiba and the UK


Nelson Mandela considéré comme l’une des figures majeures du 20ème siècle, s’est éteint le 5 décembre dernier. Il a reçu le Prix Nobel de la Paix en 1993, pour avoir consacré sa vie à la lutte contre l’apartheid en Afrique du Sud. Ce système de ségrégation raciale a profondément marqué les relations entre Madiba et le Royaume-Uni.


On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, died at the age of 95. He is known as the man who led South Africa from apartheid to democracy. He will be mourned not only in his country but also all around the world. His legacy and relationship with Britain have been of utmost importance but also quite ambiguous on several occasions.

Indeed, Mandela received an English education: he obtained a law degree from the University of London and therefore was taught about British values since his earliest years and those appealed to him very much. Indeed, when he was elected President in 1994, he chose to establish a multi-party democracy in South Africa, based on the British political model.

Moreover, the 1960s saw the emergence of a strong anti-apartheid movement all around the world that found its epicentre in London, which supported many imprisoned South African leaders. The presence of the statue of Nelson Mandela on Parliament Square is a very strong symbol for many Britons. Also, Mandela maintained close relations with Britain after the fall of the apartheid system. As soon as he became President, South Africa re-joined the Commonwealth, as Britain had rejected it in 1948, because of segregation. Those are as many elements that highlight the existence of close bonds between Britain and the character that Nelson Mandela was. But the figure of Nelson Mandela is still in some of the highest political spheres in Britain sometimes regarded as a reminder of British imperialism.

Madiba devoted his life to fighting the British colonial legacy in his country. Indeed, Afrikaner and British settlers established the system of apartheid that finally led to racial segregation in 1948. Therefore, apartheid is one of those direct consequences of the previously mentioned British imperialism. And even if he was considered by an overwhelming part of the British population a hero of freedom, some despised him and thought he was the symbol of some anti-Britrish terrorism.

Late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s position vis-à-vis Nelson Mandela and the apartheid system also added to that ambiguity. Margaret Thatcher was against the African National Congress (ANC), one of the biggest organizations against apartheid, however, she worked hard on her own behalf to get Nelson Mandela’s release. She maligned the ANC as a “typical terrorist organization” but on the other hand supported one of its most important figures. This shows the ambivalence of some part of Britain’s political spheres that couldn’t approve of the apartheid system but couldn’t really disavow their own previous imperialism.

Mandela perfectly illustrates this phenomenon: he was a strong anglophile but first and foremost he was attached to freedom and equality, which is why he loved Britain so much but also criticized at Wembley in 1990 the long-lasting apartheid system in his liberation speech. Through everything he loved, meant and symbolized, he remained a true lover of Great Britain, of the Queen and of all British values. However he was capable of taking a critical look on this model he admired. For all these reasons he can be regarded as a man whose bonds with Britain were as tight as they were complex.

Nathan DUFOUR & Yasmine BEN YAHIA


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