How Scotland’s links with South Africa and Nelson Mandela reveal a bigger humanitarian picture


Following news of efforts to raise funds for a Nelson Mandela statue in Glasgow, John-Paul Clark catches up with one of the key campaigners to find out more

WHILE the recently announced plan for a statue of Nelson Mandela in Glasgow is intended to commemorate Scotland’s ties with the anti-apartheid movement, the connection with South Africa itself stretches back two centuries.

CommonSpace caught up with John Nelson of the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation (NMSMF) to learn more of the history between Scotland and South Africa, and the envisioned legacy of the statue.

Mandela being awarded the Freedom of the Glasgow in 1981 and visiting the city in 1993 are well documented, but the missionary tradition of Scots in South Africa is something not all are aware of, and it is here that Nelson believes Scotland’s interest in international justice stems from.

READ MORE: Glasgow plan to erect Nelson Mandela statue

Nelson is himself from missionary stock; he was born in Pakistan to a Chinese mother, and he views himself as a citizen of the world. He thinks the missionaries coming home with reports of impoverished nations created the culture of internationalism and solidarity, which laid the foundations for the Scottish anti-apartheid movement.

He points to the Lovedale Institution in South Africa as the bedrock in Scottish and South African relations: “The Lovedale Institution was founded in 1841 by the Glasgow Missionary Society as the first non-racial secondary school in South Africa, and its first head teacher was Rev. William Govan, after whom Thabo Mbeki’s father, Govan Mbeki, was named,” he explains.

“Lovedale became a substantial and hugely influential educational establishment over the years, still run by missionaries until it was taken over and closed down after the election of the National Party Government in 1948 which introduced apartheid and made non-racial education illegal. 

“The original buildings from 1841 are still in use today as part of a wider further education college, which has kept the Lovedale name because of its huge historic importance.”

Future presidents of South Africa, Mandela and Mbeki, would have therefore been aware of Scotland and her egalitarian spirit long before Scots began boycotting South African goods in the 1970s and Mandela’s award of the Freedom of Glasgow in 1981.

“We hope the statue will serve as a permanent and public reminder of the importance of taking on impossible tasks, and taking whatever steps possible against injustice.” John Nelson

Nelson was involved throughout in the campaign to end South African apartheid and takes immense pride in Glasgow and Scotland eventually being found to be on the right side of history. He hopes the statue will serve as a reminder of the past and inspire young Scots today.

“We hope the statue will serve as a permanent and public reminder, to future generations of local people and visitors, of the importance of taking on impossible tasks, and taking whatever steps possible against injustice,” he says.

The statue comes at a time when the rise of rightwing nationalism and racism is becoming increasingly prevalent in western societies. Nelson hopes that the legacy of Mandela in Scotland will help serve to defeat such intolerance.

“The Foundation’s aims are all about informing and educating about the lessons of Mandela’s life and work, of the dangers of racial and other intolerance, and the never-ending need to combat them,” he says.

The NMSMF hopes to raise £25,000 for the statue to be built. Anyone interested in donating or getting involved with the foundation should contact it via its website.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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