There has been a LOT of ‘Just watch Cameron cry crocodile tears when Mandela dies, Cameron went there under apartheid, the Tories (some of them) thought Mandela should hang etc etc’ in the ether of late.
Regular readers will know that I have, shall we say, an ambivalent attitude at best towards this PM and the party he leads. However:
To deny the possibility that Cameron could have changed his mind in good faith, especially in the context of the undoubted moral complexity of Mandela’s own decision-making not only displays a kind of vindictiveness that Mandela himself rejected, but arguably misses by a mile the entire point of what makes Mandela so revered.
Mandela is held in such esteem not because all South Africans think he was always right, or because his undoubted suffering and courage somehow enabled him to transcend the human condition but because by overcoming the bitterness and anger within himself, he gave South Africans the chance to at least try to do the same.
Yes, Cameron was wrong. Yes, the Tories were (and some still are) wrong about apartheid, and the Thatcher government’s engagement with the apartheid state. It goes without saying, I hope, that apartheid was a great blot on our collective human conscience, and its end was well-overdue. But to sneer at Cameron’s change of heart and to cast his motives in the worst possible light is mean-minded at best, deeply hypocritical at worst, representing as it does the response Mandela so magnificently avoided..
Much has been said and will be said about Mandela’s status as a beacon of light, of his embodying the best of us. If we want to pay tribute to his wonderful humanity we could do a whole lot worse than follow his mighty-hearted example; and that means doing so even when that involves overcoming our own prejudices, as hard as that may be.