Nelson Mandela: 18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013
When I was a teenager in the early 1980s I think my first encounter with the name Nelson Mandela was probably through a badge. Although my memory is a little fuzzy about exactly when, it was most likely 1983, the year before the Special AKA band released what is still in most Top 20 Political Songs lists – Free Nelson Mandela. The song made it in to the top ten in the UK hit parade. The badge, though, with its typically 80s font, was ubiquitous.
Image Credit Flickr User Ben Sutherland
As well as being worn to protest the on-going incarceration of the South African politician by his own government, the badge was also another way for us to show our displeasure with our own: Maggie Thatcher and her cohorts were currently smashing their way through UK industry like a wrecking ball. The only pictures we got to see of Nelson Mandela were those taken before his trial and imprisonment – and that had been in 1962, over twenty years previously. The man could already be representative of causes other than his own – a kind of marker of general political and personal duty: this transference from individual to universal symbol is something that few others have achieved.Image Credit Flickr User Vilseskogen
The potency of this charisma was bound to find outlets through artistic expression both of the monumental and the personal kind. After his release and his inevitable rise to political power, Mandela’s face became (and I do not use the word without hesitation) iconographic, even in life. He became a living, breathing symbol of the struggle for personal liberty, for freedom of speech, for universal education and suffrage – and more: I could probably leave a space here and each of you could fill in the gap with your own reason for admiring this man, surely one of the most pivotal in contemporary world history.