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The influence of Nelson Mandela on my life

In this month of celebration of black history, I wanted to share with you the impact a truly inspiring individual can have on the world, had on me . Nelson Mandela proved that great things can truly been achieved if you never give up hope. As he once said, “it always seems impossible until it is done.”

Many years ago I used to babysit for our vicars’ children. He had fled from South Africa with his wife in the 70s/early 80s as he was a black South African and his wife was white British. Their eldest child was probably only seven years old and she used to tell me how she never fitted in in South Africa because she wasn’t seen to be black and she didn’t feel that she fitted in in England because she wasn’t seen to be white. You can learn a lot from a seven year old and maybe this is one of the experiences that affected how I live my life today.

Our local community was less than welcoming of the family and couldn’t understand why the mother requested the school have books that reflected the heritage of her children.

Hearing the family’s story was probably my first introductions to hearing about apartheid and so maybe it was no surprise that I would find myself a few years later outside Tesco’s taking part in a demonstration against apartheid, travelling to London to demonstrate against apartheid, sitting in Barclays Bank demonstrating against apartheid.

Whether the song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ had any impact on the turn of events or not I cannot say but it was a rallying call to keep the momentum of pressure to change upon the government, to keep this unjust and brutal system in the public eye. When Nelson Mandela was finally released the world was waiting to see how he would respond to the criminal loss of his freedom. They waited to see if he would encourage people to retaliate but he did not. People truly had not understood what Nelson Mandela was trying to achieve and the sacrifice he was prepared to make for his country and its freedom.

I never thought that I would ever set foot in South Africa and so when I did briefly touch down on my way to Mozambique in early 2000’s I still had mixed emotions. It was something I never thought I would experience, much like the end of apartheid, it seemed like an impossibility and yet here I was, Nelson Mandela had prevailed. I felt proud that I had chosen to have been part of a social movement that never gave up, and maybe in some way this movement had helped bring about change.

My children are of dual heritage and it’s important that they understand the leaders who shaped history for black people, for everyone, around the world and understand how sacrifices of people like Nelson Mandela, brought freedom to so many; as well as being inspired by such true leadership and courage.

Ruth Kettle