Research Collections


GCU's links with South Africa

The links between GCU and the new South Africa were forged in 1990 when Mandela was released from prison and the University decided to offer him an honorary degree. Caledonian was the first University in the world to do so. Part of Mandela's acceptance of the honour was the condition that the University offered concrete support for reconstruction and development in South Africa.

A delegation from the Faculty of Health led by Professor David Walsh and Brian Filling, Chair of the Scottish Committee of the Anti Apartheid Movement, visited South Africa in February/March 1994. It was a difficult period full of political tensions, just prior to the first free election in April. Nevertheless, the group were able to travel extensively and meet with senior figures of the ANC, fellow academics in deprived universities and political and trade union groups.

Following this visit, the Faculty agreed to support projects to assist with nursing education and research training in two deprived Universities; that of the Transkei (UNITRA) in the Eastern Cape, close to Mandela's birthplace, and the Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA), near Pretoria.  In addition to University support, funding was obtained from the Glasgow Development Agency, Yarrows Shipbuilders, Glasgow City Council and others and over the next decade a problem-based nursing curriculum was developed for these institutions. Instrumental in this were Professor Margaret Alexander and Julie Clemeson who spent a considerable time at UNTIRA in the early years. In 1999 a large number of medical textbooks and nurses uniforms were shipped to UNITRA.

Over the years staff from UNITRA and MEDUNSA visited GCU on study leave and staff from the academic areas of Nursing and Community Health, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Social Work and the Built Environment, visited various Universities and agencies in South Africa to discuss what practical assistance GCU might give the new democracy.

In June 1996, Nelson Mandela received his honorary degree from the University at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace hosted by the Duke of Edinburgh. A small delegation from Senate attended together with representatives of seven other Universities who had all followed Glasgow Caledonian's lead.

In 1997 Denis Goldberg, sentenced to life imprisonment with Mandela following the Rivonia trial in 1963, was awarded an honorary degree and visiting Professorship in Social Sciences.  The ceremony in the Royal Concert Hall is the only occasion in which the entire audience of academic staff, graduates and friends gave a standing ovation to an honorary doctor following his inspiring speech.  Denis continues to maintain close links with the University.

Many key people at the centre of the rebuilding of South Africa have visited the University since 1994.  Among the first were Mrs Nosimo Balandlela, now President of the Eastern Cape, who has addressed two public meeting on campus. The University also has close links with the South African High Commission as witnessed by the number of visits made to the University by two previous High Commissioners, Mendi Msimang and Cheryl Carolus. The High Commissioner, Cheryl Carolus, gave the Trades House annual lecture at the request of the University in 1998 and also hosted the ceremony in 1999 when President Thabo Mbeki received an honorary doctorate of the University.

In June 2001, President Thabo Mbeki, while on a state visit to the UK and accompanied by his wife and Prince Andrew, opened the Health building named after his father, Govan Mbeki, a close associate of Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned in the cell next to him on Robben Island.  A plaque in the Mbeki Building which marks the opening, also records Govan Mbeki's interesting link with Glasgow.

A few weeks after this event, the Principal, Dr Ian Johnston hosted a visit from Gracia Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela.  She unveiled a wonderful portrait of her husband by the well know artist Anne Mackintosh. The portrait hangs in the foyer of the Mbeki building.

As a result of its close links with South Africa, the University's Research Collections houses two significant collections, namely the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Scotland Archive and the George Johannes Collection, both invaluable scholarly resources.

Glasgow Caledonian University, in partnership with colleagues and friends in South Africa, have been actively involved in the first ten years of democracy in that country. We look forward to be similarly involved in the future.

Professor David Walsh
January 2005

For more information please contact the University Archivist -

Last Updated: 18 March, 2008
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