28 April 2022
A new exhibition co-hosted by the University of Dundee will explore Nelson Mandela's relationship to Scotland.
‘Scotland, Global Solidarity, and Mandela’ opens at Dundee’s Central Library, Wellgate Centre on Thursday 28 April and runs until mid-May.
Using original archival photos and posters, the exhibition recalls the story of Nelson Mandela’s relationship to Scotland and the role played by the Scottish people in the global struggle to end apartheid. The exhibition also documents Dundee’s contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle and the campaign to secure Mandela’s release from prison.
As part of the exhibition programme, organisers Dr Matt Graham (University of Dundee) and Dr Christopher Fevre (University of the Free State) will be joined by former members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement to discuss their experiences of the campaign, while another event will focus on Dundee’s contribution to the AAM.
The struggle for human rights, equality and democracy in South Africa developed into one of the largest global social movements of the 20th century, uniting millions of people from around the world behind the anti-apartheid cause.
In Britain, opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa was led by the AAM. By the 1980s, the AAM had devised an innovative and far-reaching public campaign to mobilise British opposition to apartheid South Africa, while positioning Nelson Mandela as the symbolic leader of this struggle.
Dr Graham, a historian of Africa at the University, said, “Dundee should be very proud of the city’s contribution to anti-apartheid activism.
“The most significant anti-apartheid activity in Dundee was the successful campaign to award Nelson Mandela the Freedom of the City in 1985. This symbolic act was a considerable demonstration of Dundonians’ solidarity with Mandela and the people of South Africa.
“The legacy of Dundee’s role in the anti-apartheid struggle can still be seen today through a plaque inside the foyer of the Central Library which commemorates Mandela’s status as a freeman of the city.”
The Scottish Committee of the AAM was formed at a meeting held in the University of Dundee’s Student Union in 1976, and across the city there were regular rallies, pickets, and boycotts opposing the apartheid state and its links to Britain.
Dundee also had its own local anti-apartheid group which was particularly active throughout the 1980s and which led the campaign to have Mandela made a freeman of the city.
John Nelson, long-standing former Secretary of the Scottish Committee of the AAM, said, “We were all drawn to the movement for individual reasons. I came from a long line of missionaries while others were from the trade unions. Regardless of our backgrounds we wanted to fight the injustices of apartheid in any way we could. I went to an anti-apartheid meeting in my first year at university and it never really went away for me after that.
“The highlight for me was Mandela’s visit to Glasgow in 1993 to accept the freedom of the nine UK cities that had bestowed that honour on him. Four of these were in Scotland, so that perhaps tells you something about the level of anti-apartheid support here. Glasgow was the first city in the world to make Mandela a freeman back in 1981 and that caught the attention of the world.
“One major theme throughout our existence was the campaign to boycott South African products. Wm Low, the Dundee-based supermarket chain and one of the biggest in Scotland back then, was one of the companies we targeted. While they never publicly agreed to our demands, we were told by their warehouse workers via their trade union USDAW workers that they stopped stocking goods from South Africa.
“The period between Mandela’s release and the first democratic elections was very tense and it wasn’t certain the election would actually take place. Exiles in the UK were able to cast their votes at polling stations in various cities and I volunteered to act as an observer in Glasgow. It was a humbling experience to see black South Africans vote for the first time, especially after working with so many inspiring South Africans for many years.”
‘Scotland, Global Solidarity, and Mandela’ will open at Dundee’s Central Library on Thursday 28 April and run until Wednesday 18 May.
The event exploring the history of Dundee’s involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle and its connections to Nelson Mandela will take place at 11.30am-1pm on Saturday 7 May in the Steps Theatre.
The exhibition and events are free to attend.