Vague ramblings

Impossible until it’s done: The Long Walk ends

Posted in Life by Ian Cundell on 5 December, 2013

A disconcerting amount of my clothing is in the form of tee-shirts bought at gigs, rallies, concerts and so forth, often because a slogan amused me but sometimes because I wanted to donate to a cause. So it was, at the back end of the 1980s after a Clapham Common benefit concert, that I acquired a tee emblazoned in joyous African style with a picture of marchers and the slogan “March for freedom in Namibia and South Africa”.

The trouble is, once I buy a tee-shirt I promptly forget what was on the front of it and it becomes simply ‘the next clean one on the pile’. But not the March for Freedom one. It got worn out much more quickly than usual because of what happened one day, soon after I got it.

I lived in Balham – a pretty mixed-race area – and one day (not a work day, obviously or I would have been suited and booted) I was wearing that tee, blithely inattentive to which it was. The next clean one on the pile.

Just as I was reaching the junction of Boundaries Road and Chestnut Grove, near the barber that never seemed to close, a wiry, shaven-headed black man leaned across in front of me, pointing at my chest, and said in an African-tinged accent: “Oh, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I was so taken aback that he was on his way before I could respond.

Mandela was still in jail, PW Botha was still the top man in South Africa.  In Thatcher’s Britain, with a government that actively colluded with the apartheid state, the thought that Mandela might soon be free seemed ludicrous. A slogan on a tee-shirt, in a country that must have felt very alien if not hostile, was enough to evince a warm statement of thanks.

I have absolutely nothing to say on the passing of Nelson Mandela that will not be more eloquently said by those who knew him, or lived in his light, or even by former enemies who were humbled by him.

But I do know this:

Sydney Smith was dead right. It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little.

If all you can do is buy a tee-shirt and wear it, wear it.

If all you can do is sign a petition, sign the damned petition.

If all you can do is vote, get off your backside and vote.

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013



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