The Mandela Impact

I was saddened along with millions when it was reported by the media that Nelson Mandela had passed away on 5th December 2013. From thousands of miles away he was an inspiration to masses. I remember my father sitting down and telling me about Apartheid in the mid-80s and I remember being very upset that people were excluded or restricted in society based on the colour of their skin. I was very naive and probably still remain so.

I remember the concerts and t-shirts all supporting the theme to free Nelson Mandela and to end Apartheid. However, his death brought me back a memory from secondary school where I must have been in the 2nd year, so about 12 or 13 years old when another girl told me that Nelson Mandela was in the lap of luxury in jail and that he had 5-star treatment. Her father worked in South Africa during the time of Apartheid and I was led to believe he had quite a lucrative position and I quote her directly when I write, “he had a private beach to himself where blacks were not allowed.” His family travelled over to South Africa to enjoy the segregation it seems and this girl in my year seemed somewhat content with what many of us found unacceptable in South Africa in the mid-80s. Her insistence that the man held in Robben Island had cable tv and chefs so it was ok to incarcerate him and deny millions of people rights because of the colour of their skin rankles me to this day.

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Her views and opinions and distorted facts about the incarceration of Nelson Mandela was something she was happy to gloat to me about and her best friend, but not something she openly shared with everyone. Inevitably her views on my existence and the audacity of my family to emigrate to the UK from India in the mid-70s also came under fire. I remember her sarcasm of , “oh yeah the Queen sent you a personal invitation to come over here and take jobs from us etc.”

So from the mid-80s in school I had a rude awakening to world politics and my unacceptable presence in the UK. The foul racist language and the taunts of why was I and my family ever allowed into the country were hurtful but I remember 1990 when a huge concert was held for Nelson Mandela, this girl who had chosen to go to the same Grammar School as me for sixth form, (I was surprised because she found my presence so disturbing but then wanted to attend a sixth form where she would still see me regularly) became remarkably quiet and restrained. I made wonderful friends at sixth form but I cannot count her among them as the colour of my skin offended her so.

It was years after I had left medical school that I encountered such racism again. It was actually in 2004 in the West Midlands when I went for a postgraduate examination that I was unfortunate enough to be in the company of a colleague who thought it was great that white doctors could emigrate easily to Australia but blacks couldn’t. Now, I never tried to emigrate from the UK and I probably never will, so I don’t know how true this is, I do know a lot of darker skinned doctors who have been to Australia and if I try I probably could track down some who work there.

I know quite a few of my fellow medical students went to South Africa and visited Robben Island and had moving experiences in the mid-90s. None curiously described any such thing as the lap of luxury or the 5 star treatment Nelson Mandela got when he didn’t have his freedom. Racial hatred is an awful thing, but it seems even worse to me that children are taught to hate by parents and spread this negativity in the world.

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