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Politicians and press in UK unanimous over Mandela’s demise

Dec 9, 2013, 9:35 AM | Article By: Alhagie Mbye, Point’s UK Correspondent

It is very rare for politicians and the vibrant UK Press to unanimously agree on political, economical and social issues, as well as national and international affairs; however, that bridge was completely eradicated when it was announced on Thursday night that Nelson Mandela, the former South African leader, passed away, aged 95.

Due to the fact that there abundant press freedom, as well as the inability for the executive to twist the arm or lecture the Fourth Estate on what to print or publish for domestic and international consumption, such difference is always unavoidable.

Thanks to the late South African leader that both the press and the politicians have been speaking the same language over Mandela for over 48 hours.

It would be recalled that The Point covered Mandela’s visit to London in July 2008, during the celebration of his 90th birthday in the City that was attended by world dignitaries and famous holly-wood actors, actresses and musicians. He used that opportunity for the first time to denounce the authorities in Zimbabwe ‘for refusing to allow democracy to flourish’.

This time round, the mood in London was completely different, and at the South African Embassy in London, this correspondent found people from different races, ethnic groups, religions and backgrounds laying flowers. Some wept, while others just stood watching in amazement.

But the politicians and the press on the other hand were busy monitoring events, publishing stories and issuing statements. Respectable broadsheet such as the Independent, the Guardian and the Financial Times, as well as the widely-read tabloids such as the Sun newspaper all published front-page stories expressing shocked about the news. Religious leaders including a Gambian imam also reacted.

In his article: My Last Meeting with Mandela’, John Carlin writing for the Independent recalled that ‘the last time I saw Mandela face-to-face was four years ago...He was 91, and his hair was white-and at long last, I noticed thinning’. John who is also the author of ‘Knowing Mandela: a personal portrait’ and ‘Playing the Enemy’ on which the film known as ‘Invictus’ is based gave an account of the late Mandela.

On the other hand, one of the most famous tabloids in the country, The Sun newspaper printed a bold front-page headline calling the late Mandela: ‘President of the World’.

Radio stations around the country also cancelled most of their programmes and devoted it to the late South African leader to the extent that lines were opened for phone calls, emails, text messages and tweets. The popular BBC Radio 4 immediately announced that it was ‘making some changes to the Radio 4 Schedule to reflect’ on Mandela’s life. Emotional calls came pouring in.

Officially, the Queen announced that she was ‘deeply saddened’ to learn of the death of Mandela who ‘worked tirelessly for the good of his country’.

Prime Minister David Cameron described Mandela as a ‘towering figure in our time, a legend in life and now in death... a true global hero’; while Deputy Prime Minister Nick said ‘our thoughts go out to the people of South Africa who will be left heartbroken by this sad news’.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband was also busy sending his condolences, and called the late leader ‘inspirational figure of our age who showed us the true meaning of courage, of hope and of reconciliation’.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said, ‘when the definitive history of our times is written, the name Mandela will stand taller than most - perhaps the tallest of them all’. Boris added that ‘he faced down the tyranny and oppression of apartheid by embracing unity, by rejecting division, by providing without rancour or recrimination ...’

Even former British leaders from both the Conservatives and Labour such as Sir John Major, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were not left out. Brown called Mandela the ‘greatest leader of our generation’; while Blair said ‘Mandela made racism not just immoral but stupid’. Major noted ‘Nelson Mandela left an indelible mark on his time that few have ever equalled’.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby said: ‘ South Africa has lost its greatest citizen and its father’ while Westminster Abbey is busy holding a national service of thanksgiving with a condolence book opened.

Mohamed Sarr, a respected Gambian imam in London, reacting also told The Point: ‘Mandela brought us freedom and liberty that cannot be bought’. The imam gave an example of the Domestic Canary commonly known as the ‘canary’ (a beautiful small songbird) that ‘escaped from its owner, and was asked to return home for a beautiful golden cage and better conditions’. But the ‘canary refused and told the owner that he cannot compare freedom with anything else’. Imam Sarr thus added: ‘freedom is special and cannot be bought with anything else, including gold or diamond’.

The late Mandela spent 27 years in jail before becoming his country’s first black President in 1994, and replaced the racist Apartheid regime with a government representing all South Africans, but surprisingly he respectfully gave up power peacefully.

Such a bold move has prompted people from all walks of life here demanding that African leaders should ‘emulate Mandela through national reconciliation, respecting the presidential term limit and avoiding the unexpected danger of overstaying in power so that Africans can gain the respect they deserved’.

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