Principal attends Mandela service at Westminster Abbey

03 March 2014

Principal attends Mandela service at Westminster Abbey

Nelson Mandela

Principal and Vice Chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies CBE, attended the Nelson Mandela memorial service held at Westminster Abbey today, Monday, March 3.

HRH Prince Harry, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Prime Minister David Cameron and South Africa's Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, were among the 2000 people in attendance. 

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, announced that a memorial stone to honour Mr Mandela would be placed in the Abbey.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Pamela Gillies CBE said:

“I was so privileged to be invited to attend the memorial service held at Westminster Abbey. I had goose bumps when a recording of Nelson Mandela’s distinctive voice filled the vault, and again when the wonderful Desmond Tutu gave his exuberant thanks, followed by the joyful voices of the Soweto Gospel Choir. Nelson Mandela was one of the most inspirational figures of his generation, and his unwavering commitment to fighting injustice, in South Africa and beyond, was an inspiration to millions around the world. The work that our University did along with others to support Nelson Mandela’s struggle, and to engage with South Africa, is an important part of our history of which we are rightly proud.”

GCU conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University on the former South African leader in 1996 at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace hosted by the Duke of Edinburgh. A delegation from GCU, led by the University’s first Chancellor, Lord Nickson, travelled to London to attend the ceremony.

Part of Mandela’s acceptance of the honour was the condition that GCU offered concrete support for reconstruction and development in South Africa. A delegation from led by Professor David Walsh and Brian Filling, Chair of the Scottish Committee of the Anti Apartheid Movement, visited South Africa in 1994 where they met senior figures of the ANC, fellow academics, and political and trade union groups.

Key people at the centre of the rebuilding of South Africa have visited the University since, including President Thabo Mbeki in 2001, when he opened GCU’s 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. 

Weeks later, GCU welcomed Graça Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela.  She unveiled a portrait of her husband by the artist Anne Mackintosh. The portrait hangs in the foyer of the Mbeki building.

Most recently, GCU hosted a visit by Professor Denis Goldberg, who fought alongside Mandela in the anti-apartheid struggle and served 22 years in prison before his release in 1985. As an honorary graduate of GCU, he returned to the University during a visit to the city to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day in October 2013.

GCU’s archive is home to the records of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Scottish Committee Collection, which includes documents, posters and banners recording Scotland’s fight to help free Mandela.

The University's links with South Africa include a collaboration with Transnet Freight Rail, South Africa’s largest freight rail organisation, and the University of Johannesburg with whom we jointly deliver a BSc in Railway Operations Management by Learning Contract the enhance the capabilities of over 150 Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) staff.

In 2009, Nobel Laureate and international anti poverty campaigner, Professor Muhammad Yunus, who was installed as GCU’s Chancellor in October 2012, was invited by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to deliver the Mandela Lecture.

In his address that day, Professor Yunus described Mandela as an icon for the whole world: “He led his country from one where injustice and violence prevailed to one of peace and democracy. He taught the rest of the world that in even most extreme conditions of oppression, forging peace and reconciliation is the only way forward.”