***Breaking*** Former South African President Nelson Mandela has passed on this evening.
The former South African President was born in the last year of the First World War and almost survived to the centenary year of it's beginning. Many will no doubt write full biographical remembrances of his life but I'm going to go through the points that his life bisected with my consciousness.
One of the first international politicians to grab my attention was Nelson Mandela. of course at the time he was still in prison. His image and presence touched my life in many ways along the way.
In 1984 of course there was the Special A.K.A. song Free Nelson Mandela which was one of the first protest songs that I actually purchased.
When I went on a tour of my first university my introduction to student politics probably came from an induction meeting in the Mandela Hall at QUB. Even though I didn't go there the fact that students in Belfast and as I later learnt up and down the country had gone to such length to make a statement of support for such a great man meant that I had to get involved in student politics and speak in Union meetings.
My first job after graduation saw me walking from Waterloo across the Hungerford Bridge and on to Piccadilly Circus. At that time it meant that every day I passed the statue to Nelson Mandela outside the National Gallery.
Of course before that on 2 February 1990 I watched as he walked to his freedom and the birth of a new South Africa, one of reconciliation. It gave me hope that possibly the same could happen in my own Northern Ireland. Together with F.W. de Klerk who had decided to unban the ANC and allow Mandela to be released he went on the win the Nobel Peace Prize, a echo of John Hume and David Trimble doing the same later for the similar peace established in Northern Ireland. Indeed the Northern Ireland conflict was something he took an interest in and he helped leaders here to learn reconciliation towards each other.
After graduation I came the closest I ever came to the man in person. When I played for Surbiton Chess Club there was a man across the board from me at time with a South African accent. There was one week that he said he would not be available for the low rating league match that week. It was later that night when I got home from the chess match that I saw Donald Woods, who live is portrayed in the movie Cry Freedom greeting the then South African President.
I bought my first TV on the morning of the first match of the 1995 World Cup match, when I came home to watch the recording of the first match of course there was Mandela in that colourful shirt. For the final he was wearing a Springbok shirt, once a shirt of oppression of the black population of his nation, but by then embraced by the rainbow nation.
Of course I have also read his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. And his walk was indeed long indeed he married his third wife Graça Machel aged 80 after his marriage to Winnie, who was famous for her support of him while he was incarcerated, had broken down. He died today aged 95 having enjoyed a family life denied him due to incarceration and then the political change and presidential period with her children and his own grandchildren and great grandchildren. But of course as with his own children, one daughter died at 9 months and his first born son at the age of 23, there was tragedy when one of them died returning from the opening of the 2010 World Cup died in a car crash returning to the Mandela compound.
It was a long walk for Madiba and now it has run its course.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela OM AC CC OJ GCStJ QC GCH BR RSO NPK 18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013