“Apartheid’s Public Enemy No. 1” with UK Parliament’s Lord Peter Hain


The BBC voted Nelson Mandela as ‘the leader of leaders’ of the 20th century. A global iconic figure because of his heroic struggle against South Africa’s apartheid systemic racism. Still, it was a global struggle to end apartheid, with brave, bold leaders the world over. At age 19, long before serving in the UK Parliament, Lord Peter Hain, an ex-South African, led the 1969 and 1979 anti-apartheid campaign against an all-white rugby and cricket tour of the UK. It was a high-impact initiative that infuriated apartheid supporters and earned Lord Hain the title from the South African media, ‘Apartheid’s Public Enemy No. 1.’ Today, Lord Peter Hain has a powerful message for world leaders and everyday citizens alike on how to lead and stay alive. Stay tuned and draw courage and inspiration from what he has to say!

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“Apartheid’s Public Enemy No. 1” with UK Parliament’s Lord Peter Hain

How to Lead and Stay Alive

Our thoughtful, bold leader joins us from the Neath Valley in South Wales in the United Kingdom. He serves in the House of Lords in the UK Parliament. He spent twelve years in labor government serving under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, seven years in the British Cabinet, and in 2007, he negotiated a peace settlement to end the ravaging conflict in Northern Ireland. He is a child of South African parents who were forced into exile during South Africa’s anti-apartheid liberation struggle. At age nineteen, in 1969 and 1970, he led the anti-apartheid campaigns to stop the all-White rugby and cricket tours of the United Kingdom. 

He has served as Chair of the UN Security Council, negotiated multiple international treaties, and is a prolific author, including the biography Mandela: His Essential Life. Stay tuned as he shares with us his family’s forcible exile from South Africa, the assassination attempts of his life, and how he was framed and later acquitted for a criminal bank robbery in Putney, London, for a crime he did not commit. We live in the most dangerous unprecedented times, the current leadership crises worldwide, and why Nelson Mandela’s leadership is more critical than ever? We warmly welcome my brave and bold South African compatriot, the Right Honourable Lord Peter Hain. Welcome to Leading Boldly into the Future.

Having the Right Honourable Lord Peter Hain with us is such an honor.


Leading Boldly into the Future | Peter Hain | Apartheid


Peter, thank you so much for being part of this message, this movement, and this conversation.

It’s a pleasure. Good to be with you.

Thank you. I thought a great place to start is that you’ve had such a remarkable life. You were born in Nairobi, Kenya. You had your young life in South Africa. I believe you are the eldest of 4 children: 2 sisters and one brother. You had a remarkable time in South Africa during very tough apartheid years. I was wondering. From your young life, you had a couple of incidents in terms of how your family or, ultimately, your parents were jailed, banned, and forced into exile. Could you share with us a significant crucible moment in that young life in South Africa? What was it? When did it happen? How did you feel then, and how do you think that shaped you?

I was an eleven-year-old when my parents were arrested. I was told about this in the middle of the night. I was woken up and told. That was quite a seminal moment. I can remember it very clearly. It was an example of what was happening to us.

On the one hand, they were fantastic parents in the sense of supporting us, playing with us, teaching us, being strict with us, and all of those things that good parents need to do. That was the normal side of our family. We had a very happy childhood.

At the same time, there was an abnormal side, being the only one of all my friends at school who had anti-apartheid parents because only a tiny fraction of a percentage of Whites stood up against the system. I’m always proud that my parents were among them. Also, a particular security branch policeman outside our front gate followed my mother particularly, who was the chief activist, and my father wherever they went. Sometimes, they followed me cycling to school, where they were wasting their time, but it was still quite intimidating. We were living under a state of siege. That being woken up in the early hours as an eleven-year-old was quite an interesting moment for me.

How did you feel?

Looking back on it, I must have been fairly stoic about it because I had to wake up my younger brother and two sisters and tell them, and then we had to get on with life. Our domestic worker, Eva, who was a great friend of my parents, had a different relationship to that of domestic workers with most of their White employers, which was very much a master and servant relationship for most people.

Eva was close to the family. She looked after us together with my granddad on my father’s side of the family, who hasn’t had anything to do with us because he thought it served his son and daughter-in-law for their anti-apartheid activity. They should have been expecting to be in prison, so he never really was supportive. My gran (father’s mother) moved in. For the two weeks that they were in jail without charge and trial because they couldn’t find sufficient evidence on them, we were living with our parents in jail. My dad was sacked from his work for the local council. It was quite a seismic moment.

I’m sure. What strikes me about your remarkable story is that even when your parents moved abroad and were forced into exile, your activism continued towards 1969 and 1970 when you headed up the “Stop the Seventy Tour” campaign. It was an anti-apartheid activist stance against all White sports, cricket, and rugby, disrupting the tours in 1969 and 1970. It seemed that that seminal moment shaped part of your bold action going forward. What about that “Stop the Seventy Tour” campaign ignited you, and what do you think were the critical success factors that helped you succeed?

I was having had anti-apartheid politics in my DNA through supporting my parents, seeing what happened to them, and experiencing the trauma of going into exile and all the other things that occurred. Both of my parents were issued with banning orders, for example. My mother was banned first. One of the many clauses in a banning order, and there were hundreds, was that you couldn’t communicate with another banned person. They were the first married couple to be banned. When my dad was banned, they had to be given special permission exceptionally, to communicate with one other person on the planet, namely each other, who was husband and wife. It was an ironic situation.

Regarding your question about stopping the 1970 cricket tour, I was a sports fanatic like most young White South Africans. I knew in my blood that if we stopped them from touring and stopped White South African teams from playing rugby, which they loved to do, and cricket in particular. Still, all sports in general would hit the White community really hard. Apartheid was shunned. However, (until the boycott), they were still given lavish hospitality and welcomed to Twickenham, Lord’s Cricket Ground, and rugby stadiums around the UK, Australia, and New Zealand especially. It was the same for cricket.

Although the country was regarded with hostility because of apartheid, nevertheless White touring teams were treated as if they were normal. Whereas they were representing their country, they were representing the White minority. I came up with the idea of stopping matches by physical, nonviolent, direct action means.

Previously, we’d held up placards outside Lord’s Cricket Ground or Twickenham Rugby Stadium and were treated with disdain in sometimes an aggressively patronizing way, being spat on and so on, but nobody cared. I knew if we could get onto the pitch and stop these games by running on, sitting down, and being carted off by the police by not fighting anybody and not injuring anybody because it was nonviolent, I felt in my bones that we could stop them touring in the future.

Through months of these demonstrations against the Springbok Rugby tour in the British winter of 1969 to ‘70, we created such a threat that it built up to stop the 1970 all-White cricket tour. White South Africa never toured again. The following year, the same thing happened in Australia. I was flown out to help them demonstrate against the rugby tour there. The same thing happened in Australia, and then some years later, it happened in New Zealand. They never toured again in Britain or Australia until Nelson Mandela left prison to freedom and until the transformation happened.

The interesting thing is that instead of being used as a stick against apartheid, sport became a carrot to entice the White community to change. President F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid state president who ended up negotiating with Nelson Mandela, used footage from the Cricket World Cup in 1992 in Australia as part of his referendum campaign to get backing from the White minority for the negotiations and effectively ending apartheid. It showed the importance of sport.

I might add a footnote. Some people in the anti-apartheid movement struggled and said, “Why are you concentrating on sports?” This is proof. The big fights are on arms, trade, and economic sanctions. They’re so much harder to accomplish, whereas we delivered the biggest victory of the anti-apartheid movement at that stage in 1969 and ‘70 than it ever had. At the time when Nelson Mandela was on Robben Island, the struggle had been suppressed inside the country.

That’s remarkable. The strategy clearly is very powerful and clear in terms of galvanizing people to support these protests. What did you do practically to get more people engaged and onto those pitches and fields?

One of the beauties of this rugby tour that would’ve been the same had the cricket tour happened is that you didn’t have to get on a coach (bus) and come to London to demonstrate against apartheid. To march on Trafalgar Square and picket the South African Embassy as it then was, the South Africa House overlooking Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square., Instead, you could do it in your own town and city. That’s because If you were living in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, or Cardiff, there was an apartheid sports match happening on your doorstep. That galvanized people to organize themselves.

Although I was the leader or chair of the campaign, I didn’t organize all of these. People organized themselves, and that was part of the strategy. The other thing that excited people was that they could physically do something. You could run onto the pitch. It was quite a risky thing to do. Some people got beaten up, and others got arrested, but you knew you were making a difference.

Surviving As Public Enemy No. 1

That makes a lot of sense. To your point about it being a risky thing to do, these bold actions that you took came at a high price. You had a series of what appeared to be consequences for taking this high-profile position in becoming what you later referenced as “public enemy number one against apartheid.”

That’s what the White South African media described me as. It wasn’t myself.

They defined you as that.

They defined me in that way: public enemy number one.

There seem to be a whole lot of consequences. When we talk about leadership and how we exercise leadership and stay alive, what struck me about that is your point about risk. You took greater risks. After that, in 1971,  you featured in a film that showed you debating at Oxford Union around apartheid in South Africa and faced a private prosecution at the Old Bailey in London.

You also had a failed assassination attempt with a letter bomb that didn’t detonate. I’m curious to find out, but in November ‘75 or early ‘76, you were framed for a bank robbery in Barclays Bank in Putney (London) that you didn’t commit and were later acquitted. In these, my question is, was there an escalating level of risk that you took? What was the most traumatic for you? How did you lead and stay alive? Those are three different questions.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge this. Many people don’t seem to appreciate this. They think, “Nelson Mandela walked to freedom. Apartheid was vanquished.” They almost take it for granted. However, it was a bitter, hard, tough struggle. We were in a minority in Britain and right across the world. People may have professed their opposition to apartheid, but they didn’t do anything about it, most people. Businesses and governments traded with apartheid and helped prop it up. We were vilified. I was a hate figure for stopping those sports tours. You’re right. I was put on trial for conspiracy in 1972. It was a month-long trial in which my lawyers were convinced that the judge was going to imprison me if I was found guilty. That was a tough thing. It consumed a lot of energy to fight that case.

People almost take it for granted that vanquishing apartheid was a tough struggle. Click To Tweet

I had been warned during the ‘Stop the Tour’ campaign. A solicitor friend came to see me and said, “What you’re saying could make you very vulnerable to prosecution for conspiracy, which could result in your imprisonment.” I said, “Thank you very much, but I won’t be deterred because what we’re doing is right. It’s the morally correct thing to do and the politically correct thing to do. We’re not going to be intimidated.” I did end up risking my freedom in a very tough trial in the Old Bailey, which resulted in me paying a very small fine for sitting on a tennis court for a few minutes. I was acquitted of the major charges, which would have resulted in imprisonment.

The letter bomb, which arrived on my parents where I was living in our family house in June 1972, was of the kind that was assassinating anti-apartheid leaders across the world. This suddenly appeared on the breakfast table when my younger sister opened the package. I felt, “I’m not going to be intimidated because what they’re trying to do is stop us fighting apartheid.”

Similarly, I was charged with a bank theft in 1975, which I knew nothing about. Not only was I innocent, but when the police turned up at my front door, I didn’t know what they were talking about. I found myself arrested in the Old Bailey and could have been convicted. It was later confirmed that it was committed by a South African security agent who looked like me. I was framed for that, but that was impossible to prove in court. I had to fight for my freedom differently.

I sum this up by saying if you feel you’re doing the correct thing, you’ve got to stick by principles. If you are deflected and deterred, then they’re winning. That’s how I saw it, whether it was in the courtroom. I saw it as a different arena for the anti-apartheid struggle. In a sense, they were political trials, which is how I saw it. Concerning the letter bomb, it could have killed me, but it didn’t, mercifully.

If you feel you're doing the correct thing, stick by your principles. If you get deterred, then they're winning. Click To Tweet

I was getting threats the whole time. Somebody tried to pull a knife on me or did pull a knife on me in a pub or a British bar. Others were threatening me all the time. I was getting hate mail. You’ve got to continue to do the right thing. When you look at the history of struggle and Mandela, and Nelson Mandela epitomizes this, you see very brave people. I was nowhere in his league, and I never suffered what he suffered, the prime of his life being stolen and dumped in prison.



In his case, he risked his life at his trial, which could have resulted in the death penalty. He knew he faced that possibility, but it didn’t deter him from standing up for the principles he believed in. In terms of leadership, not that I emulated that or tried to set myself up by that very high standard that Mandela has set, but the lesson is if you believe in what you’re doing, you’ve got to stick to it and see it through.


Leading Boldly into the Future | Peter Hain | Apartheid


In your experience, is this a mental mindset? What else fortified your moral courage?

I was so convinced that what we were doing was the correct thing. I thought that those opposed to us were wrong morally, politically, and in every other way, and what they were doing was inflicting unspeakable oppression and horror on, in this case, the Black majority of South Africa. They shouldn’t be allowed to continue to do that.

If I look back on it, and I’m very proud of what we did and what my parents stood up for in Pretoria, where we lived, I did some pretty risky things. If I’d not been living at home, had kids, been married, and had a mortgage to pay on a home loan, would I have taken as many risks or not? That’s a question that I’m not sure about.

My parents sacrificed everything: the country of their birth that they loved, a job, and a home. They came penniless to London and had to start all over again. They sacrificed a lot more than I did. If you’re fighting a campaign of this kind, you’ve got to show steel in your leadership and stick to what you believe, come what may.

You’ve had so many moments of very high risk. Is there a particular moment that stands out for you that has been the most harrowing for you? When was that? What was that? Can you take us back there?

In retrospect, it was the trial on the bank charge because that was a charge at me for dishonesty. Whether people agreed with me or not, and many didn’t. Many were bitterly opposed to me and hated me; that was an argument about principles, politics, and fundamental beliefs. I was always proud of myself for being honest.

If I were on a television program and asked difficult questions sometimes to my cost in my later political career, I would try to be as open, honest, and straight as possible. When you get into government, sometimes, you have to manage interviews and so on. I always tell it as it is. When you’re charged with the criminal offense of robbing a bank, that hurts. That’s probably the most traumatic. The thing about the letter bomb is it happened so quickly that, in a sense, it became much scarier after the event than at the time.

Returning to the bank incident, how did you feel then, and how did you navigate? What was your lightbulb moment in terms of, “I’m in this mighty mess. How do I navigate through?”

I’m not sure there was a lightbulb moment. I remember I was held for about eleven hours on my own in a police cell near my home. One of the most difficult things, and anybody who has read Franz Kafka’s The Trial, was you couldn’t believe it was happening to you because you were being charged with something you didn’t know anything about. In particular, the bank.

Indeed, it was Barclays Bank. There were two branches of Barclays Bank at opposite ends of the high streets in Putney and Southwest London where this all took place. I didn’t even know until after I was charged which one it was. It was completely surreal. Sitting in the cell of my own as the hours dragged on with the occasional police detectives coming in to interview me, the most difficult thing was I thought at one point, “Maybe I am guilty of this if somebody would tell me what I was supposed to have done.” It seemed so surreal and so incredible that I kept having to think, “Is this happening to me?”

How did you navigate through that process?

By being determined. On the day I was arrested, I started to type. We used typewriters in those days in 1972, not word processors. Computers of that kind didn’t exist. It was in 1975, rather. I started to type up the first chapter after my research for my PhD for my doctoral thesis. I had to abandon that to clear my name. It took over my life. For the next six months, it was preparing the case and trying to get witnesses that supported my innocence. It took it over. It became all-consuming. The two weeks were highly pressured and mentally quite stressful.

This was a classic case of ‘mistaken identity’ because there was no corroborative evidence. There was a fresh fingerprint on the bundle of banknotes that the thief stole after he’d been chased, and he threw them back. There was a fresh fingerprint on that bundle, but it wasn’t mine. It was his. Despite that, I was still charged. There was no corroborative evidence. Why do I say that? In those days, in the mid-1970s and before, British law was such that if you pointed the finger at somebody and said, “He’s the one,” which is what happened to me, then you didn’t need corroborative evidence. It was difficult.

I met other victims of mistaken identity who were traumatized by the whole thing. In some cases, it destroyed their lives. They became so obsessed with this that it took over their lives, and there was no space for anything else. A lot of them mentally never recovered. Possibly because of my parents’ support, my friends’ support, and my own toughening of my background meant that I had to keep determined. Keep believing and keep going. Leadership, in some cases, often involves that. Be determined. Don’t be deflected. It’s so easy to be deflected in difficult situations. The higher you go in whatever organization you play an important role in or the more you go up the leadership ladder, the tougher it gets.

Be determined. Just keep believing and keep going. Click To Tweet

Followership Versus Leadership

That’s a great segue into what is your definition of leadership?

First of all, if I’m teaching leadership, which I do principally at Pretoria University’s business school in Johannesburg but also in Wales, where my home is in the UK, and elsewhere, I distinguish between followership and leadership. I use Nelson Mandela as a case. What I mean by followership is leaders often like to please the people that they, in a sense, are seeking to motivate. This could be politicians with voters, party political leaders with their party members, or business leaders with their staff members telling them what they’d like to hear rather than what is the right thing to do.

I always use the example of the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final of Johannesburg at Ellis Park Stadium, where South Africa, the Springboks, were playing the All Blacks from New Zealand. It was the world beating the All Blacks. The All Blacks, the New Zealanders, were expected to win this, so the Springboks entered the game as the underdogs.

Nelson Mandela, as president in his era, decided against all the advice of his closest confidants and party officials on the National Executive of his ruling African National Congress. They did not want him to wear the Springbok jersey or a Springbok cap because the Springbok emblem was a symbol of apartheid on the sports fields—the one symbol of apartheid at play. They thought it would be a betrayal of the anti-apartheid struggle for him to do that.

He decided, nevertheless, to wear that Springbok jersey. He went on, not in his presidential suit, which is what they wanted him to do, but in his Springbok jersey and cap. The whole of the stadium was 99%, if not more, White, and probably the same percentage hostile to him because people thought that Mandela was the devil incarnate for most of his life. Certainly, during his 27 years of imprisonment, he was the feared ogre. He then became, to the White community, their president. There they were in the stadium. They got up, stood up to a person, cheered him, and chanted his name. You probably remember that.

I remember that. He was in Francois Pienaar’s jersey, the captain’s jersey.

He was wearing the number ten, which was deliberate as well. That’s a supreme example of what I call leadership as opposed to followership. Followership is easy: telling people what they want to hear. Leadership and leaders must display this all the time, as Mandela did on that occasion so tellingly.

In the bigger world, we’re in what I believe to be a pivotal global moment. We are facing several existential threats. In your mind, what are the biggest leadership challenges facing the world?

We are at the most dangerous time in the world in my lifetime, and probably yours, too. Our biggest handicap in facing the challenges we face is poor leadership. Almost everywhere you look, whether it’s China, Russia, or the US with Donald Trump possibly coming back, in Britain after Brexit, and so on, there’s very poor leadership worldwide. We are crying out for a Mandela figure.

We're at the most dangerous time in the world. We have the biggest handicap poor leadership as we face all these challenges in front of us. Click To Tweet

Hence this movement, this global Mandela movement, for change.

Exactly. People need to learn the lessons of his life. If you think of what we’re facing at the moment, not only superpower tensions which could easily escalate into world wars between the United States and China between Russia and Europe, terrorist attacks, and religious conflicts of a very extreme kind, extreme Muslims versus extreme Jews versus extreme Christian evangelicals, religious extremism is probably at its most Militant going back centuries.

People are willing to die for their God. Even within the Muslim religion, Sunnis regard Shia Muslims as infidels, almost as enemies to rank with Christians; we are in a bad place as a world. You then put on top of that the existential threat to humankind and the future of this planet, the climate emergency, as well as inject another hand grenade into this toxic mix, if that’s correct, a double method to use.

You’ve had an economic agenda labeled neoliberalism pursued for the last couple of decades since Margaret Thatcher in Britain’s time as Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan in America’s time as President, where you’ve had an agenda unlike that which preceded it after the Second World War and Keynesian economics. An agenda of privatizing everything public is bad, cutting public spending, cutting taxes for the rich, and seeking to reduce the public services and cut them. What that has done has resulted in massive inequality.

The most significant thing about which, and this was in contrast to what happened for the first three or so decades after the Second World War, where living standards in the United States, Europe, countries like Britain, and elsewhere across the developed world rose for everybody except for the very poor. What’s been happening in the last several decades is that 90% has been left behind, 10% has done very well, 1% has done incredibly well, and 0.1% has done stratospherically well.

The most significant thing about that picture of inequality is that 9 out of 10 people have either fallen behind, the American dream disappearing, for example, or stayed stagnant regarding their living standards. The whole story where you were better off than your parents and they were better off than their grandparents and so on has gone into reverse. That’s bred in the US and Britain.

In the US, it has produced Trump and the rise of the alt-right. In Britain, it has produced Brexit and the rise of the far right of the conservative party instead of being a center-right party. When Jeremy Corbin was the leader of the Labor Party for those five years, resulting in a terrible, predictable defeat in 2019, an extreme form of leadership compared with what labor’s history had been. Whether it’s Brexit, Trump, or the rise of populism in Europe in these old democracies of Europe, it’s destabilizing the world. We’re at a very dangerous moment. I don’t see an easy way out of it except by good leadership, and there isn’t much sign of that now.



Hence the need to be doing this work to help remind our generation.

If you think of how Nelson Mandela became a towering global Icon, it’s because he stood for certain values. Those values were ones of social justice, equal opportunities, and human rights. He was unflinching about those even when it was unpopular in his own party to be so. I remember him warning about the curse of corruption when he was president, saying that he could feel the corruption coming on in his own party. He always displayed honest, direct forms of leadership. It’s not that there ever will be or ever was somebody of his stature, but at least the rest of us could try and aspire to be as best as we can against that incredibly tough yardstick, an example that he set. It’s not that he ever claimed to be a saint.

Nelson Mandela became a towering global Icon because he stood for certain values, and those values were ones of social justice and equal opportunities and human rights, and he was unflinching about those even when it was unpopular in his own party. Click To Tweet

Exposing Global Corruption

That’s important. You are exactly right. You have spent more years living abroad in Wales in the United Kingdom than you lived in South Africa. Yet, you’re still fighting the good fight against fraud and corruption in South Africa. You’ve written prolifically. You wrote a book on The Elephant Conspiracy and The Rhino Conspiracy.

Also, The Lion Conspiracy. It is about the political corruption and criminality behind wildlife, like threats of extinction, and the importance of wildlife and nature to humans. These thrillers are important because you get wildlife enthusiasts who seek to conserve wildlife, and you get politicians who try to fight corruption against other corrupt politicians. People don’t see the two as joining up, but they are. Behind the poaching and the legal wildlife trade are the criminal syndicates trading drugs, human trafficking, and so on right behind them.

Corruption is a big threat, not just in South Africa. The politicians responsible, including former President Zuma, one of Nelson Mandela’s successes, have betrayed the values of the freedom struggle. That’s what really angers me. All the sacrifices made by Mandela, Oliver Tambo, down the food chain, my parents, and many others were for a better society, not for people to put their hands in the taxpayers’ till and loot shamelessly. It happens across the world. It happened after COVID-19 in Britain, so I don’t think there should be too much finger-pointing about this.

You’ve had an illustrious career in public service. You served 7 years in the cabinet of a labor government that you served for 12 years and 24 years serving as an MP of Neath. In your mind, what are the kinds of bold actions that could be taken to help better regulate this global network of criminality?

First, governments, including the UK and the US, must properly resource their anti-corruption agencies. 1 of Britain’s 3 principal financial crime agencies, the National Crime Agency, asked for an extra £3 billion a few years ago from the British government to do its job properly. That was refused. Suppose you look at the national prosecuting agency in South Africa, which has good leadership. In contrast, former President Zuma stuffed his cronies in there with the express mandate not to prosecute the bad guys. In that case, it’s under good leadership, but it’s desperately badly under-resourced.

You can go around the world and see that law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to fight these global criminal syndicates, and the very expert accountants, financial advisors, auditors, lawyers, estate agents, and other professional enablers who’ve been part of this terrible picture and graphically exposed in the South African case (of corporate fraud pillaging stage assets – the people’s assets). Governments have got to start working together.

Law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to fight global criminal syndicates. Click To Tweet

I would also like to see an international anti-corruption court established. There is an international criminal court that deals with war crimes and the like. It doesn’t deal with corruption. We need an international criminal court, and I’m trying to persuade the British government to support it. They haven’t done so far. I would like to see the US government support it. They haven’t done so so far. A handful of countries have, but you need a great majority of countries to support it, and then you could start catching these bad guys and bringing them to justice.

It’s a big issue and will take a lot of commitment and sheer will to do it.

I distinguish between political leaders, including in the UK, walking the walk and talking the talk. They do a lot of talking that they’re opposed to corruption. What are they walking? When are they doing the walking and delivering action? It is very little.

Lessons From A Great Leader

Shifting back to Mandela, you described him as a friend, a hero, and an Icon of icons when he passed away. You’ve had so many magnificent, I’m sure, Mandela moments. In fact, I was reading and curious about your time in Cardiff in June 1998, his first and only visit to Cardiff when he won the Freedom of the City Award and his engagement with children. I recall two years later when you went to Brighton for the Labor Party conference and, true to Madiba style, asked about your family and insisted on speaking to your mother when she had a fractured femur.

In early 2003, you had a very agitated Mandela on the phone, upset about the British government’s decision to support George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq. You’ve had these multiple different moments and I’m sure so many more. The question I have is what is the most powerful ‘Mandela Moment’ that has stood out for you that has radically shaped the way you have evolved and developed yourself in terms of how you think, act, and lead in the world?

I have a couple of points. One was reading and hearing over a crackly audio recording of his speech at the Rivonia Trial in 1964. He, against the advice of his lawyers, delivered that inspirational speech of defiance, saying, “I’m not going to apologize for what I’ve been doing. I believe in these values and will stand and continue to be proud of asserting them.”

Why his lawyers advised him not to say that because it was before he and his Rivonia Trialist colleagues were to be sentenced by the judge. They were facing the death penalty. Instead of making a speech in the investigation to say, “Whatever you think of me, I don’t think I deserve to be imprisoned. Maybe I could reassess what I’ve done and learn from it,” he did the very opposite. He said, “These are the principles in which I believe. I’ve fought against White racism and fought against Black racism.”

He laid out his creed and was not apologetic at all. His speech could have been described as defiant, provoking the judge almost to hang him, which would’ve happened. In fact, he was given a life sentence. If anybody wants inspiration, read about that moment. Hearing the crackling audio and understanding its significance had a very important effect on me.



The other thing amongst many others that I pick out is his lack of bitterness towards his enemies.  Mandela, certainly in the latter decades of his life, was not a hater. Often, in politics and life-and-death struggles like this, you hate your enemy. He didn’t. He tried to understand his enemy, his oppressors, the White minority, the African minority, or the ruling minority that was imprisoning, killing, and torturing his people. He was studying their culture and understanding them. That taught me a lot. For example, when I came to negotiate in Northern Ireland to achieve a deal in 2007 to bring the bitter old blood enemies together to share power, it was to try and get under their skin on both sides to understand them much better. I could pick out many things, but those are the two I pick out most.

Returning to the 1964 “I’m prepared to die” speech, where were you? How old were you? How did you feel at the time?

I was only fourteen. I remember seeing pictures on the front page of the arrest of the Rivonia comrades, the high command of his movement at Liliesleaf Farm in the suburb of Rivonia and outside the center of Johannesburg. When you visit the place, it’s right in the middle of the suburbs of Johannesburg. I remember the newspapers with the headlines of their arrests more than I  remember reading about the speech at the time.

How did it make you feel?

It seemed like another blow against anti-apartheid forces. Indeed, it was the most serious one at that time. My mother and father getting harassed, arrested, and issued banning orders, you felt that you were being crushed, which is what was happening deliberately by the apartheid police state. You could still keep fighting, nevertheless.

I remember another, too, which is part of this. When we were forced into exile, we steamed out because that was the cheapest way to travel on an ocean liner coming out of Cape Town. I remember standing on the deck. It was quite cold and rainy. I was looking at Robben Island and thinking about Nelson Mandela alone in his prison cell. I was sixteen at the time.

It was quite a hot thing where I was sailing into freedom, if you like, to London into exile unwillingly because none of us wanted to. We were forced to do that. They stopped my dad from working, so there was no alternative for us as a family. I was thinking about him still being imprisoned. That was right at the start of his long decades of imprisonment.

I’m also struck by the book you published in 2018, Mandela: His Essential Life. True to your form, you acknowledged the achievements of the ANC and Mandela and also provided a critique of the ANC and how South Africa and the ANC have lost their way. We alluded earlier to the fact that Mandela, in his own words, was not a saint. Having had such a close relationship, in your mind, what do you think was Mandel’s biggest leadership challenge? In what way did prison shape his leadership?

Mandela: His Essential Life, there are a lot of books on him, much more scholarly than mine, that I drew upon, but this is the only short readable one because most of the books about him are 800 pages, including his own Long Walk to Freedom. That’s an inspirational book, but it’s a long book. This one is short. If you want to read about his essential life, that’s probably the one.

In terms of the lessons that you keep taking and the question you asked me about what was most difficult for him, it was him coping with the fact that he had abandoned his wife not out of choice but because he’d been imprisoned. Remember. When he went into prison, his two young daughters were tiny, one a baby and the other a toddler. He never saw them again properly until they were adults, or at least in their late teens.

He was constantly consumed by guilt. He had a very traditional patriarchal view of his role as a father. He felt he had been a bad husband and a bad father because of what had happened with his imprisonment.  That constantly ate away at him. He tried to go to the funeral of his son from his former marriage, who was killed in a road accident relatively early on in his imprisonment on Robben Island and was denied. He was bereft because he felt it was his duty to be there. He was refused permission and was inconsolable. His close friend and mentor, Walter Sisulu, had to comfort him.

On Robben Island, he also became the unifier. He brought together all the different factions. The young Militants who came out after the Soweto uprising in 1976, 12 or 13 years after Mandela first went onto Robben Island, were very skeptical about the ANC. They felt that the leadership had sold them out. They were young firebrands. He won them over.

I remember a friend of my parents who was in the Liberal Party of South Africa, a non-racial, one-person, one-vote party. Eddie Daniels was imprisoned on Robben Island. He was a colored South African of mixed race. He said Mandela had gone out of his way even though he was a Liberal Party member. ANC members were pretty skeptical and too hostile for this liberal in their midst. Mandela took him in under his banner.

That’s another thing that I’ve learned from him. Whatever disagreements you might have with those who are on the same side as you of the struggle, whether they’re more left-wing than you or less radical than you, and I’ve had all those experiences, what’s the most important thing that brings you together? Life is often about where personal hostilities, squabbles, rivalries, and jealousies become bigger than what brings people together or what unites people. That is an important lesson.

In his imprisonment as well, he evolved from being quite a rather arrogant leader when he went into prison becoming a much wiser leader as the years went on, showing humility. He became a lot more understanding of his enemies, trying to reach out to them and learning their language, history, and culture of Afrikanerdom because he always believed that they would have to come and negotiate with him in the end, which is what happened.

What do you think his biggest challenge was in terms of his own transformation in prison? You mentioned you thought he was an arrogant leader, and he became wiser. Do you think that was his biggest leadership challenge, or is there anything else you would highlight?

Staying the course is difficult. Mandela was never assaulted as the brutal White warders did to other Robben Islanders because he had an aura about him. They were scared of him in a way, psychologically, if not physically. Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, and Andrew Mlangeni, those guys were amazing people. Despite everything that year after year of harsh conditions on Robben Island, they never lost their determination and their belief. They were never cowards. They had difficult moments, all of them, each of them, but they kept going. My dad said something to me. He said to me, “If change were easy, it would’ve happened a long time ago.” This was when I was a teenager, and it stuck with me. I often thought about the Mandela generation. They kept fighting, including in prison, and believing. Eventually, they won.

What do you think was Mandela’s biggest misstep?

They’re wrong, but there are those radical critics of his who maintain that that generation sold them out because there is still massive poverty, deprivation, and inequality in South Africa. In some ways, the inequality is worse, although those at the top are not just White but Black as well, different elites. The radical critics say they (the ANC) should have taken over the economy. They are saying that the ANC and Mandela should have taken over the economy and expropriated businesses from the White minority.

Although the Black majority ran the government effectively, the deal meant that the White minority continued to run the economy, albeit with Black empowerment imperatives to involve increasing numbers of senior Black figures in the business world and turning a number of them into billionaires. The fundamental divide between those at the top and those at the bottom hasn’t changed.

People say they should have been much more radical and almost revolutionary then. My answer to that is that is very ahistorical. The forces that ranged against Mandela and his African National Congress were massive. Whites still ran the army. They still had all the guns. They still had all the tanks, the ships, the helicopters, the rest of the armed might of the apartheid state, the security operators, and the sheer power of it all.

Those who criticize the Mandela generation for not being more radical do not understand the historical moment and the forces ranged against them. Click To Tweet

They’d been forced to concede democracy because the country was going to plunge into civil war and economic chaos otherwise. They didn’t change out of the goodness of their hearts. The president (past president De Klerk) may have been justified in getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, he didn’t do it because he had a sudden conversion on the road to Damascus that his apartheid hinterland, the entire two decades he’d spent as an apartheid-covered minister, was all wrong. He wanted to save the country and save the White minority from a terrible fate.

Those who criticize the Mandela generation for not being more radical do not understand the historical moment, and the forces ranged against his party, his movement, and his people. Also, they’re blaming the wrong person. The fact that there hasn’t been as much economic transformation since 1994 as there should have been is not Mandela’s fault particularly. It’s the fault of the ruling ANC government to distribute and empower people more than has happened.

A lot has happened, and change is hard. I was an impatient young radical when I was stopping sports tours, but I didn’t really understand how hard it is to bring about change. I did begin to understand that much better as a minister. It’s hard to deliver change. Making speeches and delivering legislation, government statements, policy papers, etc, is easy. That’s the easy bit. Delivering it on the ground is much tougher, especially in a world where inequality is a ubiquitous universal characteristic of the world in which we live. South Africa can’t be insulated from that.

You made the point that you think that these critics are wrong. In your view, having had this close connection with him and being a very powerful political figure in your own right, what do you think, in your opinion, was his biggest misstep from your perspective?

I don’t really think there was a major misstep. I can’t think of anything other than we all make mistakes and he undoubtedly would’ve done throughout his long political career. I can’t think of any one time where he made a fundamental mistake, and there are not many top politicians you can say that of.

Shifting the tempo a little, a couple of fun facts. What would you say to your nineteen-year-old self?

I would say, “Well done,” and, “I’m proud of you.” Not something to get to stick away, but looking back on it, quite a lot of determination and courage was shown to battle through. I’m proud of what I did as a 19 and 20-year-old. I wouldn’t have done anything different. There were individual small mistakes made, as inevitably happens. There were individual things I would’ve done differently in retrospect, but the bigger picture, I’m very proud of what I did.

The 19-year-old Peter Hain would’ve been astonished and maybe perturbed to find that the 74-year-old incarnation was in the House of Lords, had been a government minister for 12 years, 7 years in the cabinet, and a quarter of a century an MP. That would’ve been unimaginable to me then because I was a radical anti-establishment figure. Some of that spirit, a lot of it, still burns within me. My journey has not been one that I predicted. I never wanted a career. It happened.

Sometimes, the dots are more connected than anticipated, but I can see that you would think that. If you had to complete the sentence for you, success is?

Success is trying to be true to your principles while achieving positive outcomes. It’s very easy to make big speeches—it’s about slogans—but it’s much harder to live a change.

Success is trying to be true to your principles while achieving positive outcomes. Click To Tweet

What is one thing that few people know about you?

I’m a Formula 1 fan, a Chelsea football fan, or a Swiftie. I am a Taylor Swift fan. It rather astounds my young grandchildren.

I hope it encourages and inspires them, too. She’s remarkable. In our final moments together, coming back, do you think Mandela’s leadership is relevant in the world? If so, why?

His leadership has never been more important. His example is never more significant in a world of immense threats, from the climate emergency to great power rivalry, cyber attacks, and terrorism. This is a very dangerous world. If Nelson Mandela led our world at his best, we’d be in a much safer place.

What do you think Mandela would say to South Africa?

He would be dismayed about the extent of corruption and the way that it disallowed essential utility services like water, above all, electricity, and the disappearance of a proper mail service. You can’t get a letter posted anymore. It’s got to be by private courier. There’s the collapse of local public services and infrastructure from the national level to the local level because of corruption and cronyism. It’s not just corruption. It’s appointing incompetent people because they are mates of yours, rewarding them with a salaried job when they can’t do the job. He would be dismayed about that.

He would say to the young generation, and it’s something that I’ve come to understand much more in much more crystal clear terms, that the battle is never won. You’ve got to keep pressing for improvements in society and defending democracy from threats because there are always threats in any society. There are big threats to British democracy. There are big threats to American democracy. There are big threats to the rule of law in South Africa. He would say, “Don’t moan.” There are a lot of moaners in South Africa, and I understand why. A lot of people tell me they feel helpless. If you want things to change, you’ve got to be part of that change yourself. It doesn’t happen on its own.

You need to keep pressing for improvements in society and defending democracy from threats because there will always be threats. Click To Tweet

To your point, to close the loop around the conversation around these big threats in the world, what do you think Mandela would say to world leaders and ordinary citizens in the world?

I’m sure he would say to the world leaders, “Put your people first, not yourselves first.” Too many world leaders think about themselves, their narrow interests, and their potential or actual wealth and enrichment. They cling to power, in many cases longer than they should, whereas he stood down voluntarily after only one term. He could have served two terms as president. Those would’ve been his main messages in a dangerous world of threats.

To everyday citizens of the world who are battling?

Don’t lose hope. The triumph of humanity over evil is something to cling to. To everybody, if you want change, you’ve got to be an agent to fend for yourself. You can’t expect others to do it. You can’t moan because politicians don’t deliver what you want them to do. You’ve got to act yourself. You must try to change even the small things you can influence. You could be the best teacher, the best nurse, the best doctor, the best cleaner, the best car mechanic, the best engineer, or the best technician. Do your very best in whatever situation you find yourself in.

If you want change, you need to be an agent of change yourself. You can't expect others to do it. Click To Tweet

On that note of doing your very best, to the Right Honourable Lord Peter Hain, Mandela has said it best that without a person like Peter Hain, who was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela perhaps would not have been there, and South Africa would not have been a free country.

He was being overgenerous.

It came very authentically from the heart regarding your role in the anti-apartheid movement and your contribution to Mandela’s and South Africa’s freedom. As we say in South Africa, ngiyabonga kakhulu. Thank you. I’m so excited we’re working together on this message and movement.


Leading Boldly into the Future | Peter Hain | Apartheid


Thank you. All the best.

Thank you.


The Right Honourable Lord Peter Hain serves in the House of Lords in the UK Parliament. He spent twelve years in labor government serving under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and seven years in the British Cabinet. His young anti-apartheid activist life and how he led the 1969 and 1970 campaigns to stop the all-White rugby and cricket tours of the United Kingdom made me think about the high risks that come with boldness with disrupting the status quo and being branded as South Africa’s ‘Apartheid Public Enemy Number One.’ 

Peter endured the forcible exile of his family from South Africa, assassination attempts, and being framed and later acquitted in a criminal bank robbery in London for a crime he did not commit. How do you lead and stay alive? Leadership has an upside and a dark side. The upside, we get to inspire others through change. On the dark side, there are attempts to take you out when you challenge the status quo.

Leading change requires that we first rewire the organization and secondly, then rewire and reskill the people. Disrupting the status quo comes with a profound sense of loss: the loss of daily habits, old loyalties, entrenched identities, and current thinking. When people go through that kind of process, they often feel incompetent, disloyal, and push back.

How do you survive? 

There are two parts to focus on.

1. External Focus: The first is an external focus on the organization to prevent your removal.

2. Internal Focus: The second is to focus internally on your needs and vulnerabilities to ensure that you do not self-sabotage and risk executing your own demise.

1. If we focus on the organization, the external focus, and the steps and tactics, we need to adapt.

i. First, we must operate in and above the fray. Be part of the action, but remember to step on the balcony and watch the action at play to get a different perspective.

ii. The second is to court the uncommitted partners, allies, and opponents. It is usually the uncommitted that will determine your success. Keep your allies close, but keep your opponents closer.

iii. Thirdly, it’s really important to acknowledge the pain and losses publicly, to practice what you preach, and to recognize your part of the mess publicly. When the finger is faced only forward, you become the target.

iv. Fourthly, it’s also important to cook and moderate the conflict. Give people a safe place to bubble over, moderate the heat, and manage the temperature range and tolerance as the temperature drops and rises.

v. Finally, place the ‘work’ where it rightfully belongs. Resist being Superman who flies in to save the day and let the people do their work.

2. When it comes to internal focus and managing one’s own needs and vulnerabilities, it’s really important to

i. regulate one’s personal hunger for control and self-importance. When people depend on you, they will ultimately resist and resent you.

ii. Secondly, anchor yourself. Find that beautiful sanctuary where you can reflect on the day’s journey. Find that trusted confidant that you can off-load without feelings of holding back or having judgment or contempt.

iii. Importantly, define and distinguish between the personal and the professional you so you can detach from the criticism against change that automatically flows. 



Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action, just one small step at a time. One step for you, but together, a giant step for humanity. Take care and take thoughtful, bold action.


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About Peter Hain

Leading Boldly into the Future | Peter Hain | ApartheidThe child of South African parents jailed, banned, and forced into exile during the freedom struggle, aged 19 from 1969-70, Peter Hain led anti-apartheid campaigns to stop all-white South African sports tours.

MP for Neath from 1991-2015 and a Privy Councillor, he served in the UK Labour Government for 12 years, 7 of these in the Cabinet.

He negotiated the 2007 settlement to end the conflict in Northern Ireland and was a Foreign Minister with successive responsibilities for Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. He has chaired the United Nations Security Council and negotiated international treaties.

He was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Secretary of State for Wales, Leader of the House of Commons, and Energy Minister.

His concise, readable biography, Mandela: His Essential Life, was published in 2018; his memoirs Outside In in 2012; his two thrillers about poaching and corruption set in South Africa, The Rhino Conspiracy in 2020 and its sequels, The Elephant Conspiracy in 2022, and The Lion Conspiracy 2024. His South African memoir, A Pretoria Boy, was published in 2021. 

He is married with two sons and seven grandchildren and has degrees from Queen Mary University London and Sussex University. He has lived in South Wales for over 30 years. 

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