Welcome to a very special edition of Five Minutes, the podcast series where we speak to the most interesting people in the world of malaria.
Today is Wednesday the 18th of July, Nelson Mandela Day. This year marks a milestone in his legacy, it’s his centenary.
Nelson’s story is one of forgiveness, hope and equality. He was the first black President of South Africa, focusing on throwing out the legacy of apartheid by ending racism, poverty, inequality, and on improving racial understanding in South Africa.
Yesterday, Barack Obama made a speech about Nelson Mandela whilst celebrations took place around the world.
And we’re joined by The Reverend Colin Chambers, who was the Prison Chaplain for Nelson Mandela during his time at Robben Island Prison.
I wanted to know more about his experience with Nelson Mandela and to remember his legacy, 100 years on.
This is Five Minutes with Reverend Colin Chambers.
Why is Nelson Mandela such an important figure?
I think his ability to unite a nation through forgiveness and reconciliation and his love and warmth for people. He was genuine, what you saw is what you got, there was never any pretence. He was the same with royalty or with street urchins, I think he was just a towering personality.
Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years, as a Chaplain of the prison where he stayed, what were the conditions like?
For the first fourteen years, they were abominable. They slept on mats, if you were an African, you weren’t allowed underwear, you had short trousers only, you did hard labour in the limestone quarry, you had to shower in cold sea water that doesn’t water. A lot of verbal abuse and psychological abuse, never psychical abuse. After fourteen years, the conditions improved a little bit because international people began to look at the prison, but they were still pretty bad. The first three years was one visitor, months behind a glass panel. I could go on, but I hope that gives an idea.
Moving on to a lighter topic now, are there any fun or trivial facts about Nelson Mandela that you are able to share with us now?
He said his biggest regret was not becoming the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world, he said that the didn’t lack the violence of boxing, he said that he enjoyed the technical skill of protecting yourself. The Spice Girls were his favourite band, he called the Queen ‘Liz’ – I think those are fine for now.
What is your most memorable moment with Nelson Mandela?
My most memorable moment with Nelson Mandela I think above all others, I was preaching one day about Joseph being released from prison and becoming the Prime Minister of Egypt and a Pharaoh. When I was preaching that message, I felt it was the wrong message, but I had gone past the point of no return. I apologised to him [Nelson Mandela] afterwards, I said that it was insensitive of me because it never looked like he would be released and they wanted to be Prime Minister or President. He said ‘No, not at all, you actually give me hope’ so if I gave the great man, perhaps it was another brick in the wall of many people. That is probably my towering memory.
And to finish, what kind of legacy does he leave us with today?
I think I read in a newspaper that ‘hatred is the worst possible basis for politics’ is a good legacy, we see a lot of hatred. Forgiveness and reconciliation, we find that when one group deposes another group, there is usually retribution and executions and all kinds of things. But with Mandela, there was forgiveness. Even the architect of apartheid who was long dead when he was released, Hendrik Verwoerd, he said that African black people are ineducable, they can only be fit to carry water or wood. When Mandela was released, he went to the memorial and had coffee with Hendrik Verwoerd’s wife, it was forgiveness and reconciliation.
Reverend Colin Chambers.