Some days are better than others. Twenty years ago today I gathered with a few beers and some University friends in the front room of my student house and watched Nelson Mandela walk to freedom. It was the most amazing single moment in an incredible few months which had seen student uprisings in China and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and would go on to witness the Poll Tax riot and finally the resignation of our bete noire Margaret Thatcher. It felt like time was on fast forward and that new possibilities were opening up almost weekly. In our optimism we were sure we belonged in the emerging new world and for many of us the rolling events felt a vindication of our beliefs A tangible sense of what our generation might be able to offer in the years ahead. The decks were being cleared.
We had to wait for Mandela. The BBC were there and a long lens camera focused on the road down which he was scheduled to walk. A voice over described events and the heat shimmered off the tarmac meaning that when he did finally appear, two hours late, it was as a blinking dot on the horizon which gradually came into focus. He approached us hand in hand with Winnie. We cheered, toasted, put our favourite records on and danced all afternoon.
As I write this Matt is busy working at the Market Theatre in South Africa, looking for new ways to tell the stories of the brave men who were Mandela's comrades during the long exile on Robben Island. It's incredible to realise the changes in South Africa over the last two decades and more important to remember that even in the most difficult or cynical times we can join movements that both plan a better future and work towards achieving it. I think students have not just the possibility, but the responsibility to be brave. to imagine, to desire. It's tough, but exciting, work. Our job as lecturers is to support, to provide the maps and if we cannot then to simply get out of the way.