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Friday December 6, 2013

Spain mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela

In Soller this morning many locals expressed their sadness at the death of Nelson Mandela, former South African president and tireless campaigner for the defeat of apartheid. In one of the town’s cafés a group of locals sat transfixed as a television current affairs show beamed reaction to the news from around the world. Numerous respectful statements were aired from world leaders but somehow the Spanish hierarchy seemed to have been overlooked.

Tolo, one of my old Majorcan chums who at 85 needs to chalk up another decade to catch up with Mandela, shook his head in disapproval and asked me why Mariano Rajoy, president of Spain, hadn’t expressed regret at the death of the much loved ‘Madiba’. I explained that he had indeed released a quote for the media which I’d glimpsed on twitter. On what? he spat in disgust. I showed him my i-phone and read out loud some of the tributes from his country’s politicians. Mariano Rajoy, prime minister and leader of the conservative PP party, praised Mandela for his ‘fight for equality’ while Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Secretary General of the socialist PSOE party asserted that Mandela ‘defended the cause of humanity’.
I drew Tolo’s attention to the Spanish royals’ own website where in an open letter King Carlos I paid tribute to Nelson Mandela and mourned the passing of a man of integrity and conviction who fought for a better future. He and Queen Sofia had also reportedly sent a telegram of condolence to South African president Zuma describing Mandela as ‘a close friend we’ll never forget.’ I’m not sure whether Tolo was more impressed with the magical powers of my i-phone or the words of his king. Suffice to say that he grunted in satisfaction, paid for his coffee and brandy and left.

Of course Nelson Mandela had enjoyed a warm and long standing relationship with the Spanish royals and the country as a whole. In 1992 he made a visit to Barcelona for the Olympic Games returning a few months later to receive the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation – an accolade he shared jointly with President De Klerk. On a state visit to South Africa in 1999, the Spanish Royals met with Mandela again and five years later he himself flew to Spain to attend the nuptials of Crown Prince Felipe and Letitzia Ortiz.
The great anti-apartheid campaigner cut a frail figure in his last public appearance at the South African World Cup final in 2010 when he was able to witness Spain win its first World Cup victory in a thrilling match against the Netherlands. Had the weather not been so bitter and Mandela less fragile, he would have presented the winning trophy to the Spanish team.
As I walked back to my home from the town, I spied a South African flag flying in respect from the window of a block of flats. I may live in a sleepy Majorcan mountain town but the savvy locals are au fait with world affairs and never too busy to pay their respects to the passing of a global hero.

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