Magazine article New African

Should Mandela Statue Be in UK's Parliament Square?

Magazine article New African

Should Mandela Statue Be in UK's Parliament Square?

Article excerpt

"Perhaps the fact of our presence here ... might serve to close a circle
which is 200 years old. I say 200 years because the first time this
country [Britain] entered ours as a colonising power was the year 1795"
--Nelson Mandela to a joint-sitting of the British Houses of Parliament,

A thousand years hence, London's Parliament Square will, in all probability, still be a tourist attraction. And I can see a bright African youth peering at the statues in the Square and resting his eyes on that of Nelson Mandela, which was unveiled on 29 August this year.


"My God! What is he doing there?" the youth wonders. Yes--Mandela's statue stands alongside those of the British wartime prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, an arch-imperialist; two ancient British prime ministers, Sir Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli; the American founding father, Abraham Lincoln; and General Jan Smuts, one of the heroes of the Boers who practised racism in South Africa in the 20th century. The youth is confused. He whips out his nano-computer and types "Mandela/Britain: African perspective" into it. Out roll the words:

"1964: Mandela jailed for life by a South African court presided over by a judge appointed by the racist apartheid regime that in 1969, killed 61 Africans, mainly shot in the back, at Sharpeville. Relations between Britain's Conservative Government and South Africa remain normal. Britain works at the UN to frustrate African nations' demand that sanctions be imposed on South Africa.

"The Guardian writes on 16 June 1964 that: 'Wherever plans are discussed to end the subjection of black South Africans, Britain counsels delay, restraint, vacillation. To the rest of the world ... Britain appears to be engaged in a prolonged fighting defence of South African interests, with never a point conceded until it has been overrun.'

"British Labour Party gains power after elections in October 1964. Hopes are aroused that British policy towards South Africa will change and that there will be more sympathy for the black South African cause. But the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, had bound his own hand and feet by telling a press conference in London, before he came to power, that Labour was 'not in favour of trade sanctions [against South Africa] partly because, even if fully effective, they would harm the people we are most concerned about--the Africans and those white South Africans who are having to maintain some standard of decency there'.

"Needless to say, Wilson had neglected to ask any of the people he claimed to care so much about within South Africa, what they wanted him to do--impose sanctions or not?

"On 17 November 1964, the Labour government announced the imposition of an arms embargo against South Africa though it maintained that this only applied to 'future contracts or export licences'. Existing contracts were to be fulfilled 'on the grounds that their cancellation would ... entail serious financial and commercial consequences and might endanger [Britain's] staging and overflying rights in South Africa'.

"Shortly after this, the Labour government announced that the shipment of 16 Buccaneer aircraft (and the necessary spare parts), ordered and partly paid for by South Africa when the Conservatives were in power, would also be allowed because to cancel the contract would have involved 'the loss of an export order of [pounds sterling]25m and the liability to pay compensation to the South African government'. "Harold Wilson's Labour government also refused to join in rendering support to South Africa's political prisoners through the South African 'Defence and Aid Fund' as recommended by the United Nations. The British Foreign Office's view was that the political prisoners whom the Fund was supposed to help (including Mandela) had been convicted for attempting the violent overthrow of a government with whom Britain had diplomatic relations. …

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