South Africa and Trafalgar Square: 1990 and 2010

March 1990:

I meant to go on this with a friend from school. For some reason, neither of us made it. But I kept the flyer. On the back, the blurb refers to “Nelson Mandela’s imminent release” – in fact, he was released six weeks before the planned demo, on 11 February. The Anti-Apartheid Movement lambasted Margaret Thatcher for choosing to “align Britain more closely with the apartheid regime”, and for describing the African National Congress as terrorists. “Britain alone in the world has spoken out in support of the National Party’s policy of ‘group rights’… the real terrorists are the leaders of the National Party like PW Botha and FW De Klerk.”

The demonstration was due to be held in Trafalgar Square, home to South Africa House – a looming reminder of the terrible regime in charge of the country, and its status as an international pariah.

June 2010:

Packed square
South Africa fans after the match

Sixteen years after the first free elections, Nelson Mandela is free but frail, and joint holder of a Nobel Peace prize with FW De Klerk. There are still many problems in their country. But their people are free. And in London, thousands of people gather to watch the first match of the 2010 World Cup, from Johannesburg. South Africans of all hues partying together along with hundreds of Londoners (and a fair few Mexicans too). The noise from those vuvuzelas buzzing through the West End. And what a great goal, eh?

I love World Cup time in London – when we really show our status as the capital of the world, where you can watch matches with fans from every corner of the planet. (North Korea might be a push, mind.) Of course, our mayor was ready to help us share in the fun – unveiling the big screen and getting us ready for an unforgettable summer of, er… –

Thank you, now sod off

Er, Boris? Boris?