In the year 2000, a decade after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, I was a dewey-eyed 10 year old sat on the polished assembly floor listening avidly to my teacher, Mr Skipper, talk about the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release.
I remember how he blasted “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Specials, and oddly enough, I also remember the pungent, cheesy smell of the floor polish. Even as an impressionable kid, it’s hard to shake off the impact Nelson Mandela’s story has on you. My immature brain couldn’t fully comprehend the gravity of what happened all those years ago in South Africa, but I never did forget that assembly.
What did I know that 16 years later, I would meet Nelson Mandela’s co-prisoners, Denis Goldberg and Ahmed Kathrada, two men who stood trial and went to prison with him all those decades ago.
These men are two of many unsung heroes of the anti-apartheid resistance. Their humility, their passion and their will to make the world a better place for us future generations, puts our sporadic attempts and ambitions to absolute shame.
Denis was one of the oldest people in the room, and yet he had more spunk and passion than all of us young ones combined. He proudly sported a scarf decorated with the colours of the South African flag, and would have given it to me if only he had another one, which sadly for me he didn’t.
Ahmed (also affectionately known as Kathy), who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on the notorious Robben island prison, spoke of how the struggle against apartheid was a non-racial one. Whites, blacks and Indians all united as one to fight against the injustice of apartheid because in Denis’ words, it was the right thing to do.
Considering the Conservative party’s historic discomfort with Nelson Mandela and the ANC, it was slightly comical and dare I say eye-brow raising, sharing a room with these men and David Cameron. For me, not least of all because of David Cameron’s recent comments about how Muslim women immigrants could risk getting deported if their English skills are deemed “inadequate”.
Everything went smoothly, but standing outside Number 10 just as we were about to leave, Denis decided to let rip a final sharp reminder. Fingers crossed David Cameron was peeking out of a window listening when he said the following:
“Human rights are under attack everywhere, even in Great Britain. And it’s nice as human rights activists to be invited to 10 Downing Street. I hope indirectly to remind the head of your government that human rights are important.”