Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to Glasgow

Nelson Mandela inside Glasgow City Chambers on October 9, 1993, with Lord Provost Robert Innes (left). Picture: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
Nelson Mandela inside Glasgow City Chambers on October 9, 1993, with Lord Provost Robert Innes (left). Picture: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
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HE IS today regarded as a global symbol of peace for helping forge a new spirit of racial equality and cooperation in South Africa.

Yet when Glasgow Council decided to award Nelson Mandela the Freedom of the City in 1981 it prompted a heated debate on whether it was appropriate for a Scottish local authority to support someone who was then imprisoned over charges of domestic terrorism.

While we were physically denied our freedom, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system

Nelson Mandela

Mandela was released from jail in 1990 as South Africa began to move away from the apartheid system which had left it an international pariah state.

He had not forgotten Glasgow’s display of solidarity, and readily agreed to an invitation to visit the city in October 1993 from veteran Scottish anti-apartheid campaigner Brian Filling.

Now that trip in October 1993 has been recalled in a new pictorial book, Nelson Mandela Glasgow 1993.

The publication reproduces photographs taken by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, then a young press photographer based in the city.

Mandela was still six months away from being elected South African president, with the country’s first free and fair elections post-apartheid not taking place until April 1994.

His arrival in Scotland was keenly awaited.

“I got an assignment late on a Friday night to go to Glasgow’s Hilton Hotel to photograph the arrival of Nelson Mandela in the city,” Sutton-Hibbert said.

“I waited in the lobby area of the hotel with a fellow photographer, Wattie Cheung, and some others. At last Mandela arrived, and as he walked though the doors, through the reception area, everyone in the lobby stopped. Everyone stood and applauded.

“It took Mandela a few minutes to walk though to the elevators, everyone wished to shake his hand. An impromptu line formed and graciously he walked his way along, beaming a smile, shaking hands. Mandela neared the elevator he was in front of me, I decided to forget about the picture and held out my hand. He shook it, smiled, walked on.”

Mandela spent the next two days in Glasgow, giving speeches in the City Chambers and Royal Concert Hall, and attending a small ceremony in which St George’s Place was formally renamed Nelson Mandela Place.

In a speech at the City Chambers on 9 October 1993, Mandela said: “While we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system, and declared us to be free.”

Sutton-Hibbert spent followed the statesman through his public appearences. “I think in total that weekend I shot 17 rolls of film,” he said.

The photographer will discuss Mandela’s visit and his new book at a free event taking place at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow’s Trongate on Saturday, November 21 at 2pm.

Nelson Mandela Glasgow 1993 is published by Café Royal Books and is on sale at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, and Street Level Photoworks.