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By Kirsty Walker
Who’s up for a trip around Parliament Square then? A swift visit to the Churchill memorial, swerve Abraham Lincoln where some tourists from Arsecreek, Kentucky are posing, and past Benjamin Disraeli, whoever he is.
There will we find the newest monument to a man who has demonstrated and inspired greatness, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Let’s just remind ourselves what this man stands for. Influenced by Ghandi, Mandela’s first political activity involved giving free legal advice and representation to blacks who suffered under the National Party. After non-violent actions failed, Mandela co-founded and led the armed wing of the ANC in paramilitary training, guerrilla warfare and sabotage. To put it lightly, this was one serious motherfucker.
Mandela began his struggle in the shadow of Ghandi, but drifted towards what Malcolm X would later describe as equality ‘by any means necessary’. It was arguably the Sharpeville massacre which turned many moderate ANC members into armed revolutionaries. In a South African township in 1960, a group of over 5,000 people converged on the local police station. They asked to each be arrested for the crime of not carrying their identifying passbooks. As the crowds grew, armoured tanks surrounded them, and opened fire, killing 69 and injuring another 180.
Lt. Colonel Pienaar, the commanding officer of the unit which committed the massacre, had earlier been quoted thus; “the Native mentality does not allow them to gather for a peaceful demonstration. For them to gather means violence." A similar feeling seems to have been behind a piece of legislation which makes the unveiling of a statue to Mandela despicably ironic. If, tomorrow, the government unveiled a piece of discriminatory legisaltion, it would be against the law to protest about it in the shadow of Mandela’s image. Since 2006 it has been illegal to mount a protest in Parliament Square without the express permission of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Anyone entering Parliament Square with a placard could be arrested, fingerprinted, photographed and held whilst a DNA sample was taken from them. The same could happen to anyone who had a permit to protest (a contradiction in terms really) but who used a loudspeaker. In fact, this could now happen to anyone, technically for doing anything at all, as the definition of an arrestable offence is now anything for which a policeman arrests you. It’s the kind of Catch-22 situation that the phrase was coined for.
The passbooks which those at the Sharpeville massacre were protesting against being forced to use were basically ID cards. They held a person’s name, employment details, photograph and fingerprints. They had to be presented on demand and not carrying one was an arrestable offence. Sound familiar? Imagine being arrested in front of that statue for failing to produce your compulsory ID card, which unlike the paper versions given to the blacks in South Africa, can also record your biometric data, and can hold an unlimited amount of information due to its chip technology.
Mandela had no qualms about moving towards armed resistance when the freedoms at stake were so precious. Surely a better tribute to his efforts would be to lift the restrictions on demonstrating in Parliament Square and to send the ID cards legislation to join the Passbook in freedom’s own Room 101.
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