July 18th. This day, but then.

July 18, 2018

You'll open the papers and online media sites today to see celebrations for what would have been the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Born in Mvezo, Umtatu, South Africa Mandela served 27 years in prison for his protests and actions against the apartheid regime which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Elected in 1994 as South Africa's first black president, Mandela is synonymous with the struggle for equal civil rights. He shares his birthday with some interesting interlinked history, joining South Africa with India, India with the UK, and the UK with Germany. 

 

Exactly four years before Mandela's birth, Mahatma Ghandi left the shores of South Africa after spending 21 years there as a lawyer n the pursuit of fairer treatment of Indians, Coloureds and Africans. After the passing of the Indian Relief Act in June 1914, where a £3 tax on Indians was abolished, and the validity of Indian customary marriages was recognised, Ghandi's campaigns of Passive Resistance were deemed successful, and he returned to India.

 

In the UK, one year before Mandela was born, in1917, The Times of London carried a proclamation from King George V. He was formerly renouncing his family's German titles and dignitaries, changing his surname from the very German sounding Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the very British sounding Windsor. After three long brutal years of war with Germany, anti-German sentiment was at an almost hysterical level. German immigrant bakers in London's East End were targeted with their shops smashed and bread and flour thrown away. There followed a local bread shortage. One pub, run by a Scotsman called Strachan had his windows smashed as rioters thought the name Strachan sounded German.

 

It wasn't just the immediate Royal family that changed their surname. Princes became Lords so their titles became British, and royal surnames were changed including the direct translation of Batternburg for example which became Mountbatten. Citizens with German heritage changed their names to sound more British hoping to avoid persecution, Muller became Miller and Schmidt became Smith for example. 

 

Eight years later In 1925, a book sowing the seeds of hate titled Four and a Half Years (of struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice was published in Germany. The working title was rejected and the book was launched with the title Mein Kampf. The National Socialist Party manifesto was published in two volumes, one today, and the second in 1927.

 

Hitler's strength lay in his understanding of mass propaganda. He understood that the intellectual level of his message must be set at the least intelligent of his audience to win the most support. In sowing the seeds of hatred, patriotism, a common enemy and the promise of a better life he resonated with the poor disenfranchised millions in a Germany struggling after the First World war. It's frightening how many of these historical occurrences resonate with some of today's global events. 

 

Finally, to close the British, German, South African and Indian loop, George VI, son of George V, and father to the current Queen, today in 1947, signed the Indian Independence Act. It paved the way for full Indian independence from 15th August 1947, and was coordinated by the Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, and the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten (previously Battenburg). The act separated Pakistan and India with Pakistan coming into being on August 14th, and India one day later on the 15th. As with most brief articles, we simply scratch the surface, so if you'd like to learn more, perhaps buy this excellent documentary here.

 

So a politically inspired article today. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed it. Happy Birthday Mr Mandela, and to leave on a favourite quote of yours "If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love". 

 

 

JC 

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