With the loss of the first black President of South Africa everyone around the world is in mourning one of the biggest icons of public and political life in the 20th century. Mandela not only transcended African politics but was the moral barometer of our humanity and quest for social justice and equality for all.
In the UK, Mandela had a major impact on BAME communities at a personal and community level.. His imprisonment and the anti-apartheid movement in the UK played a key role in influencing and revitalising democratic socialism in the Labour Party and connecting with grassroots activists in the wider trade union movement.
Mandela’s imprisonment led me to join the Labour Party and also to close by bank account with Barclays as a teenager as part of the anti-apartheid boycott. I stopped listening to Ray Charles and Millie Jackson as I found out they went to Sun City resort in South Africa along with other celebrities and sporting personalities.
In many ways his struggle and the fight for freedom in South Africa was part of the race equality struggle the rise and development of Black Sections, Black Socialist Society and now BAME Labour within the labour movement was influenced by Mandela in fighting for equality on the home front.
Black British politics and the battle for race equality in the UK have played an integral part and balancing act between African Americans and Africans on the continent. The Atlantic connection in learning from the Civil Rights movement and fighting apartheid influenced the development and creation of Black History Month in the UK on the 1st of October 1987. Twenty six years on, Black History Month has influenced and inspired others in the equalities world to organise similar months around exposing the hidden and excluded histories such as LGBT, Disability and Gypsy and Traveller History Month.
1987 was also the year that the African Jubilee Year Declaration was launched which called on local and national government to recognise the contributions of Africans to the cultural, economic and political life of London and the UK. The declaration also called on authorities to implement their duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 and to intensify their support against apartheid. The declaration also made a call to action for authorities to support and continue the process of naming monuments, parks and buildings reflecting the contributions of historical and contemporary heroes of African descent thus giving positive affirmation to children and young people identity and self-worth.
Mandela’s legacy in the UK was further reinforced on one of his many visits to the UK he met Doreen and Neville Lawrence and heard their plight following the murder of their son Stephen. Mandela played a key role in influencing Jack Straw the then Home Secretary to establish the Macpherson report which lead to the Race Relations Act 2001 and recognised institutionalised racism and promoting a clear public duty on race equality.
Great strides have been made in the last 60 years in celebrating difference and acknowledging the mutuality around respect and tolerance role models have provided the equality of opportunity for the X and Y generation. As a nation we benefited from this social revolution as a modern success for Britain as a dynamic multi-ethnic, secular and inclusive society.
We still have a long way to achieve the equality that we all deserve. However with Labour we have a chance since this is part of our values and DNA.
Over the last few years we have been in danger of sliding back as a nation to my parent’s experiences of the ‘colour bar’ when they came to Britain in the late 1950s. The proposed Immigration Bill, the racist van, the return of stop and search, racist landlords, and disproportionate impact of Tory austerity. Many of us are taking action at a local and national action level to stop this which has had a successful impact.
With the launch of Realising One Nation: Developing a race equality strategy the consultation document covers key questions covers in the following policy areas: employment, education, policing and criminal justice, health and social care, representation, small business, equality and immigration legislation. More work is required in developing specific policies and certain policy areas are absent e.g. arts and heritage, international development, foreign policy, housing and environment.
It would be great as part of the legacy of Mandela for the Labour to shift a gear and work towards a great vision on tackling racial inequality with clear policies and a renewed conviction for BAME representation in Parliament. This would be a real testament to Mandela life’s work and our commitment in achieving equality for all.
Cllr Patrick Vernon OBE, committee member of BAME Labour and Ed Miliband’s Taskforce on Mental Health in Society