On the South Bank of London’s Thames River stands the British National Theatre, an ode to concrete brutalism. It’s possibly one of the ugliest buildings in an area that’s famous for the London Aquarium, the London Eye and Waterloo station, but none of this is really important.
What’s important about this particular building is not how unsightly it is, but rather the statue that’s almost hidden away down the side of it. This bust of Nelson Mandela was erected in 1988 and was the second erected at this site, the first was unveiled by Oliver Thambo, President of the ANC’s government in exile, and was destroyed by racist gangs. This may be the only statue of him erected while he was still imprisoned in South Africa and therefore depicts Mandela as a young freedom fighter he was when sentenced to prison by South Africa’s Apartheid government.
This alone might make this particular statue special, but what really moved me is title inscription on the statue. The statue’s inscription begins with words that, I’d like to think, vocalised Mandela life and the man that he was. The black granite plinth is engraved with the words,
“The struggle is my life.”
This statement was taken from a press statement, of the same name, released on 26 June 1961, a few years before his capture and incarceration. In the final sentence of the second last paragraph the statement reads
“The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.”
For me this sentence personified the man that Nelson Mandela was, for even after he won political freedom for all South Africans his governement led the creation of one of the most progressive consititutions in the world, granting a wider range of freedom to all South Africans than those enjoyed by even the most “civilised” nations on earth.
He continued to champion the freedom and rights of those victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and one of his final appearances, after retirment was at the Make Poverty History campaign in London. Still fighting for economic freedom.
Nelson Mandela was a man of his time, he saw the injustices plaguing his land and it’s people and he chose to give his life fighting for an ideal that he believed in.
But the struggle continues, for political freedom is nothing without economic freedom and economic freedom is worthless without security for ourselves, our families and our communities.
The world today is a very different one from that in which Nelson Mandela was born, but there are significant struggles to choose from and to dedicate your life to, real fundamental human challenges that are local and global.
They include, but are not limited too
- Alcohol abuse
- Cultural freedoms
- Economic inequality
- Gender based violence
- Government and Corporate Corruption
- Political stability
- Safety and security
And so I say to you who have not yet chosen your struggle or those who’s struggles have small, personal impacts, consider your daily struggle as well as those of the people around you, and then choose which struggle will become your life’s work.
Build a circle of like-minded individuals and tackle the problem head on.
For our struggles are real. Whether you are struggling for the betterment of yourself, your family, your community or society at large, having a clear and definitive statement that underpins your actions will allow you to also state with confidence that “The struggle is my life” and when questioned about what that struggle is you’ll be prepared to respond “I will continue to fight for ______ until the end of my days.”
Below: The granite plinth with the original statue removed, with a young Mandla Mandela atop it