Mandela – Glasgow’s proud history

The world is mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela – global statesman, peacemaker, diplomat, father of a nation, president, leader, political prisoner, freedom fighter, revolutionary, lawyer, activist.
Following the moving vigil in Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow for Madiba on Friday, it was a pleasure to while away the evening in the company of the Honorary Consul for South Africa in Scotland Brian Filling and other old comrades and friends.
In celebrating Mandela’s life, my heart swells with pride at the contribution of my adopted home. The city of Glasgow’s support for the ANC struggle to overthrow the apartheid regime in South Africa and campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and all the other ANC political prisoners has been unstinting.
My generation vividly remembers the deeply offensive “Hang Nelson Mandela” badges and posters that the Federation of Conservative Students brazenly sported in the early 1980s. Some of those brylcreamed posh boys are now in Government and are shedding crocodile tears for Mandela. Their guru Maggie Thatcher decried Mandela a terrorist, and set out on a sanctions busting mission to prop up the apartheid regime. The young David Cameron who claims Mandela his hero went on a delegation to the apartheid regime to support her call.
Meanwhile Glasgow was at Mandela’s side on the road to freedom, and Brian and the Scottish anti-apartheid committee were right at the heart of it.
Glasgow set an example to the world in 1981 as the first city in the World to grant Mandela freedom of the city – in absentia. In 1986 St. George’s Place was renamed Nelson Mandela Place. This is a high profile city centre square in which the apartheid South Africa consulate was housed. Along with the Consulate of the Apartheid state, Stock Exchange House in Nelson Mandela Place also housed the Glasgow Stock Exchange, South African Airways and other friends of the regime that refused to use the proper postal address on their stationery . Not all the tenants of the building however agreed. There was something deeply satisfying that my employer, the then Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland headed paper and business cards displayed our address as Stock Exchange House, 7 Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow, G2 1QW.  Glaswegians held weekly vigils every Friday teatime outside the consulate to protest against apartheid.
The same year, Glasgow Caledonian University provided an honorary doctorate to Mandela and named the nursing building the Govan Mbeki building after one of Mandela’s comrades in prison.
In 1988 Oliver Tambo, ANC leader in exile addressed marchers leaving from Glasgow Green to walk to London in the Freedom at 70 campaign and during Glasgow’s international city of culture year, the city included Shehaba, a festival celebrating the culture of resistance
But one of the most joyous days in my political life was in 1993 when Mandela came to Glasgow to collect his freedom from all of the UK cities that granted him. He danced in the rain with those of us that filled George Square.  In his address, he said “You, the people of Glasgow, pledged that you would not relax until I was free to receive this honour in person. I am deeply grateful to you and the anti-apartheid movement in Scotland for all your efforts to this end.”
Brian Filling is determined that we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy by continuing to support struggles for freedom and justice the world over. Community Heart continues to collects books for the children of South Africa, and organise solidarity events, like the speaking tour earlier this year with Denis Goldberg to celebrate his 80th birthday. Brian is already making plans for next year’s Mandela Day – 18 July, Mandela’s birthday. Let’s keep the spirit of Mandela alive.


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