CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week #53: Nelson Mandela

by Stephen Tall on December 6, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero mandela

Nelson Mandela

President of South Africa, 1994-99
Reason: for inspirational leadership.

No words of explanation are needed from me – they’re best left to Mandiba…

I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.
(On his release from 27 years in prison, addressing crowds from the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall on Sunday February 11, 1990)

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Honourable mentions:

Until news broke of Nelson Mandela’s death last night, there were three other contenders for Liberal Hero this week…

First, Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond, for his campaign to introduce the right of recall, “making it possible for voters to get rid of underperforming MPs in between elections”. This was promised by the Coalition Agreement, but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said voters can trigger a by-election only if the House of Commons first agrees an MP is guilty of serious wrongdoing. Though intended to avoid vexatious attempts to jettison MPs, it would be far better to set a high threshold than to dilute recall in this way. Kudos to Zac for sticking to his guns on this. You can read more about his Campaign for True Recall here.

The other two contenders were Labour MP John Woodcock and Olympic diving bronze medallist Tom Daley – both of whom this week showed considerable courage in making public statements about their personal lives: John Woodcock that he is being treated for clinical depression; Tom Daley that he is currently in a relationship with another man.

There is nothing remarkable about either thing: many people suffer from depression, many people come out as bisexual. But to mark yourself out as different always brings with it risks – whether becoming the target of insults or simply being treated as somehow ‘other’. Though I don’t like the idea of role models – all of us, including Nelson Mandela, are flawed – hopefully their openness and honesty will help others in the same position to draw strength, to live life as freely as possible.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.