Last night Nelson Mandela passed away, after months, if not years, of illness. Aged 95 he had maintained his dignity and statesmanlike poise to the end. He is, quite possibly, the greatest hero of our age. The world is in mourning for a hero, a fighter and a peacemaker.
What marks him out to me as a super-human was his astonishing ability to forgive those who had kept him locked up for 27 years. When he was released there remained a tension and fear, as no-one knew what would happen. In the 1960s he had supported the use of violence in the struggle against apartheid. South Africa remained a tinderbox, with many dreadful, inhumane acts during the 1980s. And yet, he was able to walk free and call upon his people to throw their weapons into the sea. His fight was with principle, not people.
Listening to the radio I have heard both “Something inside so strong” by Labi Sifri and “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Special AKA. Both songs of the 80s, songs of my teenage years, songs that meant so much to me. I don’t believe it was just my hormones! There were a series of protest songs that stood out against worldwide injustices. (“Do they know it’s Christmas?” by Band Aid would be another, for a different cause.)
It got me thinking: what are the protest songs of today? Where are the people standing up for ‘the little guy’? So much music-making these days is sanitised: beautiful songs (sometimes!) but saccharine messages. Have we lost our passion for the poor, helpless and oppressed – or has the marketing of music for fame and celebrity taken over the fight for justice? I wonder what my children will cling to as they seek equality for all, regardless of race, gender or religion.
Nelson Mandela once said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” As we mourn the passing of a great man, let us hope that we can emulate his ability to forgive his enemies, we can stand up for his ideal of justice for all, and that the world may be filled with people of both good head and heart.