Liverpool 8 Against Apartheid banner used in the 1980s.
Like millions of people across the globe I was saddened to hear the news that one of the great leaders of modern times - and a true freedom fighter - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, has passed away. Such news is often hard to digest; things really don’t quite seem the same when someone of such stature, such presence and indeed familiarity is no longer with us. But someone like Mandela will always leave an enormously influential legacy - in his case - hope rather than hate. Even though he spent 27 years of his life in prison for his beliefs, fighting for political freedom and social justice, he still had the courage and character not to be engulfed by rage on his release from Robben Island in 1990.
In 1993 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1994 became the first truly democratic President of South Africa. He had the herculean task of navigating the country through a difficult period of truth and reconciliation - a process by no means ended - but given a chance due to his strength of character and leadership.
There will be many eulogies of this great man written in the coming weeks but here is a personal reflection. In the early 1990s as a politically aware student who was a member of the anti-racism society I believed that apartheid needed to be broken. It was a rotten, racist and discriminatory system, which had cost the lives of many freedom fighters, with many more jailed, and I wanted to do “my bit”. Over 20 years later I am still trying to do my bit, and although such a towering presence has left us, we need to remember the ideals that he dedicated his life to.
Let me end with some poignant words said from the dock at his trial - known as the Rivonia trial - in 1963:
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
For more information on the fight against apartheid - and Nelson Mandela’s legacy - you can visit our 'Living Apart: photographs of apartheid by Ian Berry' exhibition website.
South Africa is today celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela with a memorial service in Johannesburg. A Book of Condolence has been opened at Liverpool Town Hall.