Mandela and his magnetism

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“THERE is probably no one else alive who now carries the affection and moral authority of Nelson Mandela. In his death he not only holds a silent mirror to an often corrupt world, but still beckons the world to believe in and give its life for peace, justice and generosity.”

Some of the most poignant and profound words amongst the billions which have already been written in tribute to this incomparable icon of icons, the fact that they were penned here in Yorkshire by the Bishop of Bradford – and reproduced on these pages today – is testament to the global impact of a saint-like statesman whose magnetism will probably never be seen again.

Nelson Mandela was not just a freedom fighter who rewrote the history of South Africa after making a smooth transition from prisoner to president following 27 years in a cramped cell on the hell hole which was Robben Island. He became the conscience of the world, a moral guardian whose willingness to forgive his oppressors on a journey of reconciliation that touched every city, county, country and continent. Pope Francis is probably the only political or spiritual leader with a comparable style, and his papacy has still to pass the test of time.

Yet it is a tribute to the humbleness of “Madiba” that his passing, at the age of 95, was greeted with spontaneous street celebrations in his homeland and where his loss will be hardest felt. He would have far preferred to this to the sombre reflection that traditionally marks the loss of great leaders; his ability to transcend generations with spontaneous gestures of affection and self-deprecation is one reason why he was revered from the slums of Cape Town to the streets of Leeds and all those wellwishers who witnessed the magic of Mandela in 2001 when he became an honorary freeman of the city.

After leaving high office, Mr Mandela revelled in describing himself as “an unemployed pensioner with a criminal record” as a means of introduction – but such humour, though characteristic, actually does a disservice to his place in history.

He was an original “one nation” politician because he was able to bring South Africa together to end the injustices and racial intolerance of the apartheid years. Contrast this with David Cameron and Ed Miliband, for example, and their undignified struggle for ownership of this mantle.

But the concept of “truth and reconciliation” only entered the consciousness of the world when Mr Mandela emerged from prison on a tumultuous day in 1990 when no one quite knew what to expect of a man who had been held captive for more than a quarter of a century.

His first evocative words to a restless crowd in Cape Town – “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as humble servant of you the people” – offered an eloquent foretaste of the future and a leader who understood the importance of forgiveness, whether it be over the ending of apartheid or his influence in helping to shape the tortuous Northern Ireland peace process.

In using hope as a means to come to terms with injustice, Nelson Mandela showed to the world that peaceful dialogue is always preferable to the armed struggle that he, himself, waged as part of his crusade for civil rights. It helped that his charisma matched his forensic attention to detail. But there is one other difference – the first black president of a democratic South Africa was also a man of a great integrity. That is why the world is a much poorer place for his death. For, an increasingly selfish society, he truly did put peace, justice and generosity before himself.

Window dressing? Smalls shops are a 365-day priority

THERE is a neat symmetry of timing to the Government’s latest plans to stimulate trade on traditional high streets. Today is the inaugural Small Business Saturday, the culmination of a new campaign to highlight the value of those independent shops are trying to withstand a retail revolution which has shifted markedly in favour of the major supermarkets and online shopping.

Its importance was self-evident in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement when the Chancellor announced moves to smaller premises to pay their business rates. This reform is long overdue – there have been countless examples across Yorkshire when the imposition of this charge forced a shop out of business with the inevitable consequences for unemployment levels.

In this regard, there needs to be a fundamental change of mindset. As the traditional party of small business, the Conservatives should be ensuring that the interests of these firms are put first every day of the year – and not just on one-off occasions.

Yet the proposal to relax many town centre parking rules do need to be placed in wider context.

If the Government is to cap parking penalty charges and stop CCTV cameras from being used to catch motorists parking illegally on double yellow lines, it will be a further erosion of the coalition’s localism agenda – such restrictions normally exist to prevent even greater congestion.

It should also be noted that this intervention is only a “consultation” – the wheels of policy turn so slowly at Westminster that there is little likelihood of any changes being introduced before the election.

While many will agree with the direction of travel set out by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, his still has to win over those who might dismiss his blueprint as window dressing.

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