I was on the verge of tears (of joy) this afternoon watching the opening ceremony of the Football (Soccer) World Cup live from Johannesburg. It's still very much a novelty for me seeing people of different-coloured races mingling in this former pariah country. Even a decade and a half since the end of apartheid it seems a miracle that it happened at all - especially to people like me who, during all our politically-aware lives, had seen South Africa as a living, suppurating scar on the face of humanity. Sure, we have other 'scars' now, some of a different quality, and some indeed still within that very country, but for so long South Africa was the litmus-test for a person's attitude towards justice. I recall Mrs Thatcher, as she tried every which way to block sanctions, actually denouncing Mandela as a 'terrorist' ("Anyone who thinks the ANC will ever rule in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land!") Then there was the famous Conservative Party conference which she presided over as Prime Minister where T-shirts were widely sported bearing the legend "HANG NELSON MANDELA". (Ha ha! What a joke! What fun!) When I was working then, my colleagues would try to wind me up by bringing in sanction-flouting South African apples to eat with their lunch - announcing that they were doing so, of course. I just sat there and seethed.
Anyway, thank heavens those days are well truly past. (Thatcher shortly afterwards had the gall to claim that it was her influence that helped to end apartheid. ["Talks, yes - sanctions, NO!"] But then that same 'gracious lady' also claimed that it was her influence and that of President Regan which were paramount in bringing down the Berlin Wall and Communism in Europe. Well, as she is now in quite advanced dotage, let's allow her that comforting view of her former megalomania, shall we?)
South Africa today, despite it's searing difficulties, still offers a brilliant symbol of hope demonstrating that man, at least in some respects, can advance out of darkness. I salute you all - well apart from those Afrikaaners who want to turn the clock back. Dream on, losers!
3 hours ago