Understandably today, you can’t turn on the tv or radio, or browse to a news or social media site, without many references to Mandela’s death at the age of 95.
Everyone, it seems, has a comment on his life, his legacy, and his impact on the world. Most of these are heartfelt, if some maybe a little over-the-top, given that I know some of the posts I have read come from people with no actual family, relational or geographic link to any part of the African continent.
Anyway, here’s my take on the man they called Madiba…
Mandela’s true legacy will be the demonstration that violence can be denounced and fought against. It’s a fallacy to believe that his whole life was one of peaceful non-aggression, but he emerged from that life into the statesman we all admired so much.
Nelson Mandela was born into a country where the seeds of apartheid were already beginning to take root from South Africa’s colonial past – although it would be a few decades before the racism would be enshrined fully into law. His early years were a struggle against tradition, and a fight for the education he knew would be his way to succeed in an increasingly oppressive land.
Slowly, he was drawn into the political arena, due in no small part to his presence at university (Fort Hare and Witwatersrand) which brought him into contact with activists from the African National Congress. As he became more involved with the organisation, the landscape around him underwent a massive change, with the election of the National Party into Power in 1948.
South Africa in the ’50s and ’60s was a country heading towards virtual civil war. On one side you had a violently oppressive regime led by a minority of racially driven politicians, military and police services. On the other side you had a majority black population whose struggle for political and economic freedom slowly boiled over into organised resistance and progressed to violent acts that, were they to take place today, would be denounced as terrorist atrocities.
Mandela quickly became identified as a target by the National Party, and was arrested numerous times throughout the 1950s. Finally, in 1964, after a lengthy trial and despite near-universal calls for clemency, Mandela and two co-defenders were found guilty of four counts of sabotage and planning to violently overthrow the government. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to the infamous Robben Island. He would remain incarcerated for the next 27 years.
Make no mistake – during the bloody conflict there was massive wrong being done on both sides. The way we view the conflict today is blessed with two things: the clarity of 20-20 hindsight, appreciating that the ANC had the ‘moral’ high ground despite their more militant actions bringing ever more violent reprisals from the apartheid government. And the ability for grace, forgiveness and a determination for change to overcome even the most extreme hardship and violence.
When Mandela was finally released from prison in February 1990, the country he walked out into was a different place to the one he had left outside the prison gates so many years before. Political pressure, economic and sporting sanctions, the publicity surrounding Mandela himself, and changes to leaders within the ruling National Party presented a hugely changed landscape. Within four years, the ANC had won a landslide victory in the first free elections for over forty years, and Mandela rose to finally lead the nation he had fought to protect.
For me, I think that above all the emotion and the hardship, all the struggling and all the hope, the life of Mandela means this: that a nation can emerge from virtual civil war, with a violently oppressive regime on one side and an opposition responsible for what, if it were to happen today, would be condemned as terrorist atrocities on the other. All it takes is the capacity for grace, love, and forgiveness, and a determination that things don’t have to stay the same. Nelson Mandela wasn’t perfect, but he found the perfect path from prison to the Presidency, and for his nation, from separation and racist violence to understanding, integration and acceptance for all.
I had a very interesting conversation recently with a friend, who told me of a visit made to a London church. He’d gone, not as a member of the church, to see an ennoblement / investiture ceremony for a new bishop.
What made the event worth comment is that, in the five hour ceremony (yes, FIVE hours) there was very little, if anything, that reflected what life within a Pentecostal church in a deprived area should be about.
Let me preface the following with this: I wasn’t there and so can only comment on my friend’s perception, but he felt strongly enough about his experience to tell me about it, and this is what he felt and saw.
There was a 90 minute performance from a gospel choir, followed by many, many speeches as everyone of importance had their moment at the microphone. And two separate collections where it seemed to my friend that people were trying to visibly and publicly out-give each other.
Now I was listening to this with mixed emotions. Having been in ‘low’ or ‘free’ church for many years, I am very aware of the issues that can arise when we put structures and hierarchies in place within a church. Giving people ‘special’ status, with fine robes to wear and privileged positions of power and authority, too often leads to people assuming different ‘levels’ of holiness, goodness, or proximity to God. The truth is that the Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short, and once you have dropped below that perfection, we’re all the same.
Now I’d never really understood that the ‘low’ Pentecostal church, that you associate with the happy-clappy, dancing and singing crowd of Christians, had assumed that level of organisational trappings normally associated with ‘High’ Churches. However, the preceived lack of any real heart-felt faith displays and the very unscriptural way that the offerings were handled surprised and disappointed me more that the robes and the unnecessary ceremonies.
In an area of society where so many people are in need, having ‘good’ people waving their handful of banknotes in the air before placing them onto the collection plate reminds me of the story of the Widow’s Mite from Mark Chapter 12:
‘ Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” ‘
It’s all about attitude – attitude of the heart. God’s not interested in the amount you give, He’s interested in how and why you give. If you give in order to look good to your fellow parishioners, and to display success and wealth, then it’s an empty gesture. But give because you want to help others, and you want to give as an act of sacrifice and devotion to your God, and, as the verse above says, your giving counts for more than any amount of self-important riches.
And God’s not interested in the positions of power and authority in which we place ourselves or our leaders, and He’s not interested in our own self-importance. He’s looking for a Church that makes a difference because His spirit is free to work in our lives without the hindrances of ego, image, or status. Then, we will see Church happening where it actually matters – outside of our four walls and services, and out on the streets of our towns and cities.
Who are you?
It’s a question that can have a really simple answer on the face of things. You’re Dave, or Sharon, or Pete. But that doesn’t actually give an answer – all it gives is a label chosen by your parents when you were nothing more than a pink face looking out from a bundle of blankets, being passed around to strange people called ‘relatives’…
But who IS Dave, or Pete, or Sharon? Come to think of it, who am I? What’s my identity?
What is it that makes me who I am, unique and different from every other one of the more than seven billion people currently alive, and different from every person who ever walked on the surface of the planet.
Is it to do with my physical being? I’m around six foot one, weigh around 14 stones plus change, with hair that used to be dark, and eyes that used to be 20-20. That’s hardly unique, so if this is part of the answer, there’s going to be something else as well.
Is it about my environment? I was born in West London 48 years ago and have slowly moved west by around 25 miles. My parents are happily married after fifty two years, my siblings (two brothers and a sister) are all living close enough to see each other regularly, and though age is catching up with us all, we are all relatively healthy and happy. I’ve been blissfully married for a quarter of a century, with two daughter who are both an absolute blessing and an bit of a pain by turn, being thoroughly normal, healthy kids. It’s a good place to be, but again – hardly unique.
Is it my heritage? I’ve spent some time on researching my family tree, and have several strands going back as far as the late 1600s, but after a while it just becomes a list of names. There are a few that I know a little more about, like my Grandad, whose character was formed in part by his wartime experiences, but much of the fabric of my family history is lost in time.
Is it what I do? My job is in IT, which might mark me as a geek. My hobby is drumming, which might mark me as a Rock God (not really… ) I love movies, sports, documentaries, history, and music, which positions me as a spectator. But there are lots of people who simply watch and enjoy.
Is it what I think? There are a lot of things I feel strongly about (politics, religion, inequality, football, beer) and a lot of things that I really don’t care about (rainbows, fracking, mountaineering, sky-diving, Pauly Shore movies). I know I’m not alone in most of this.
I don’t appear to be getting very far. But it’s clear that the answer to who I really am isn’t a simple one at all.
Maybe the thing that makes me unique, that makes me me, is that intangible essence that can’t be seen with the eye or heard with the ear. Maybe it’s the spark that separates life from death, in that for many people who see a relative or friend after their passing, the thought is that “it’s just their body, it’s not them.” Maybe there’s something to this that drives me to look deeper, beyond what I am called, what I look like, where I live, what I do.
This is where what I believe comes into play. I believe that there’s something inside of me that makes me who I am, that defines everything I am, everything I feel, and everything I represent. Call it my spirit, call it my soul, but its there. It must be, otherwise I’d just be a random coincidence of chemicals and involuntary actions and interactions, and that simply isn’t enough.
Same with you. It’s what makes you unique, priceless, and remarkable.
Worth remembering, next time you are approached at a party and someone says “Hello! Who are you?”
I’ve been very lax at writing over the last few months, the reasons for which are the subject of another post over the next few days, but regular readers will be familiar with my infrequent rants about the injustices of the world, and I’ve got a few to bring up now…
OK – first off, there’s a subtle erosion of human rights that is going on pretty much unheeded in our land. I’m not talking about rendition flights, I’m not talking about asylum seekers and medical tourists, nor am I going to launch into yet another tirade about the hypocrisy towards uncovering the truth shown by a certain Mr Julian Assange – though Lord knows that one’s way overdue.
No – I’m talking about something far more important, and far more damaging.
My two lovely daughters, and my wonderful wife, are afflicted with that curiously female ailment known as CSD – Compulsive Shopping Disorder. So as the bloke / taxi driver / nominal ‘head’ of the household, I get dragged off to shopping centres on a reasonably regular basis.
I didn’t really mind this, as there’s generally a store or two that provides release, a quiet space free of shoes, make-up, and ‘accessories’, where I can browse to my heart’s content, spending a fortune in my mind and a smaller amount if I reckoned I could get away with it.
Soon, these places, these havens of male shopping solitude, will be a thing of the past. Places like HMV are disappearing fast, as is Blockbuster Video, and most every independent movie and record store you can imagine, to be replaced with charity shops, pound stores, coffee shops doubling as young mothers meeting rooms, and shops selling anything from carpets to mobile phone unlocking services (and it’s ALWAYS mobile phone unlocking services, for some reason). And when the last one goes, it will be a sad, sad day for blokes everywhere.
There’s something inherently bloke-ish about going into a store like HMV, and wandering up and down, looking at every DVD case and CD they have. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the old hunter-gatherer instinct kicking in. Maybe it’s the possibility of surprise when, moving down a shelf, we suddenly come across a movie that we recognise as filling a gap on what I term ‘the Bucket Shelf’ of DVDS we feel we have to own before we die. Maybe it’s the one area of a man’s life when being ‘touchy-feely’ has its place, for certainly there’s a tactile element to picking up a movie, checking out the cover art, and reading the précis and list of extras.
I guess that with the advances in technology and the delivery of music and movies via the internet, the demise of these stores was inevitable, but it will still be the major contributor to a phenomenon I see growing over the coming years – the sad, despairing bloke hanging dolefully around shops whilst the women in his life decide on whether they can justify a seventeenth pair of shoes that week. Girls, get used to it, because we’ll be stood there looking at our watches. It’s not like we will have any say in the matter.
At least with a movie or CD, you can read the cover and know what’s inside. Unlike the majority of processed food, these days, it seems.
I’m not entirely sure what the key issue is with the various ‘scandals’ regarding the presence of horsemeat in the food chain. As a meat, it’s probably no less safe to consume as beef.
Is it simply a labelling issue on our food? Is it that we reckon we are being ripped off by people pushing cheaper meat onto our plates (although people that complain about that should try a Tesco Value Beef and Onion Pie, inside which they will struggle to find any meat whatsoever, so a bit of Dobbin there wouldn’t go amiss). Or is it something to do with our view of horses as ‘pets’ or ‘noble beasts’, most of whom have names – and we draw the line at eating something we referred to as ‘Tony the Pony’.
Somehow, as with many other recent revelations such as phone hacking or the banking crisis, ‘Horsegate’ stirs up the wrath of that social barometer – the school mum. Every time there’s any kind of newsworthy story these days that involves a gauge of public opinion, there’s no end of camera crews outside the school gates – and they always manage to find a mum willing to describe the latest situation as ‘disgusting’ or ‘intolerable’.
And that’s what will ultimately determine whether we eradicate horsemeat from our processed Spaghetti Bolognese, or whether we’ll just be told in advance that some cheaper frozen food will always be a bit pony – the views of some ill-informed and badly motivated women hanging round outside a council estate school. Because as we all know, any stupid opinion is validated, as long as it’s delivered with the subtle caveat “think of the impact on my kids!”
I’ll be back soon, with more stuff that gets my gears grinding again!
It’s time for another trawl through some of the recent news stories, to find out what’s been grinding my gears lately…
One of the big topics, that has managed that migration from the back pages to the front pages, surrounds the sadly on-going issue of racism in football.
As everyone is no doubt fully aware, incidents of racist abuse in football have been happening both on and off the pitch over the past year. We recently witnessed some terrible racist chanting from Serbian supporters towards England’s Under-21 side throughout their Euro 2013 qualifier, which was won by a late England goal to put us through whilst the Serbian side were eliminated.
On the pitch behaviour has scarcely been better. We are still working through the consequences of the abuse levelled by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez towards Patrice Evra of Manchester Utd, which earned the Liverpool man an eight-match ban. And (a whole year on from the incident itself) Chelsea’s John Terry is currently serving a four-match ban for racially insulting QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. This latter case even warranted a criminal charge and a day in court, where the increased burden of criminal proof led to an acquittal, although Terry was later found guilty in an FA industrial hearing and banned, along with receiving a £220,000 fine.
These incidents are saddening, and have no place in what is still termed ‘the beautiful game’. However, they are indicative of society, and as racism still has a hold in general life, it’s not going to be easy to eradicate it from the terraces or the pitches.
One organisation trying to do this is the Kick It Out campaign, whose remit is to highlight instances and work towards changing the culture of players, supporters and institutions within football. The problem with Kick It Out is that it’s largely toothless. Or so say those players who refused to wear their t-shirts over the past weekend, a weekend when all players were asked to do so to show support for the campaign.
Now, the aims of Kick It Out are admirable, but there are several problems that I can see.
Firstly, the organisation (created under the FA banner) is woefully underfunded, with an annual budget of just £500,000 – barely double the fine levied on John Terry. In addition, they have no powers to actually do anything but talk (and print t-shirts) and there’s no real sense from the players and supporters (whatever their race) that they have any connection with Kick It Out.
So here’s what I would do:
Firstly, they need a remit to be far more proactive. Instead of just communicating, they need to be able to run training sessions, focus groups, even ‘rehab’ sessions where issues have been identified, all of this up and down the country at all levels of the game. There should not be a club in the land where Kick It Out isn’t visible and represented.
This of course, brings my second point into play, which is funding. There’s no way that the organisation can do all of the things it needs to do to be effective, given the budget. This budget needs to be drastically increased, possibly up to £10 million a year (yes, I know that’s a 20 fold increase, but the game is hardly in poverty).
The source of this extra funding will cover my final point nicely.
The additional cash will come from several sources: Firstly the FA themselves, who (if they are serious about cutting this cancer from the game, must properly invest in the organisation they set up to achieve that goal. Secondly, each and every club should contribute, based on their level within the league structure, as a commitment to the cause. There should also be a contribution from the players directly (possibly through their union) so that not only do players understand and acknowledge the issue and the campaign, they have a direct personal and professional stake in the success of Kick It Out. Lastly, supporters need to understand that some things go far above individual club or country allegiances, and that by contributing (through bucket collections at games, or at locally organised fundraising events) they engage with the aims and ambitions that we should all share.
An off-shoot of this is that certain black players have started talking about forming a breakaway black players association, thinking that only they can represent their views properly.
I agree with those who feel that this will only ever become more divisive rather than less so, as it creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality from the off.
What’s next? A separate Players Union for ginger blokes? Oh well, I guess someone has to look out for Steve Sidwell….
Riser had a great time on Friday night at the Victoria Arms. Fun was had by all, and we are back there on December 22 for a Christmas bash if anyone is local and free….
Anyway – here’s a little taster….
OK, a couple of big announcements….
Firstly of all, anybody who is in the vicinity of Binfield on Friday night, come down to The Victoria Arms, where my band RISER are playing. Have a beer or three and listen to some great rock music. Oh, and then come say hello.
Secondly, and clearly of more momentous importance, I am about to formally embark on the road to digital literary publication!
Yes, dear readers and…. yes, I feel I must say it… friends: I have decided that 2013 is the year I am going to write and publish my Grand Opus. There are a few little details to work out, such as title, topic, characters and the words, but I’m posting this notice as a marker, and so that you can hold me to it. It’ll be pushed out onto an unsuspecting world for minimal fiscal outlay via whatever Kindle markets I can access, and so this is also (sneak, sneak) an advance request for your pennies!
OK, off now, but remember – pub on friday, book next year!