University joins in tributes to Nelson Mandela

06 December 2013

University joins in tributes to Nelson Mandela

GCU Chancellor, Professor Muhammad Yunus with Nelson Mandela

As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, staff and students at Glasgow Caledonian University are united in expressing their sadness at the death of the man who will be forever remembered for bringing apartheid to an end in South Africa and for  spreading the message of reconciliation and peace across the globe.

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. It was one of eight honorary degrees to be awarded to Nelson Mandela that day – GCU was joined by the London School of Economics, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Nottingham, Warwick and De Montford.

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 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 1994. It was a difficult period of heightened political tension, 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.

Many key people at the centre of the rebuilding of South Africa have visited the University since then.  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, delivered 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 degree from 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 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.  A plaque in the Mbeki Building which marks the opening, also records Govan Mbeki's interesting link with Glasgow.

Mandela portraitA few weeks later, GCU welcomed Graça Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela to the  University.  She unveiled a portrait of her husband by the well-known artist Anne Mackintosh. The portrait hangs in the foyer of the Mbeki building.

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

The University's links with South Africa include a major 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 to over 150 Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) staff.

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 organised by Brian Filling to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day in October 2013.

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.” 

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