Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in jail for his defiance against South African Apartheid.

At the time of his incarceration, the South African Government considered Mandela a war criminal, but in a remarkable reversal of fortune (and with a little worldwide pressure) was granted his freedom, and came to be seen as one of the founding fathers of modern South Africa.

Nelson Mandela it could be argued, united the people of South Africa and helped pave the way for a future of peace and prosperity in a country divided by years of discrimination and separated because of race, creed and colour.

But what does the city of Glasgow have to do with Nelson Mandela? Apart from Glasgow having a street with a coincidentally similar name as the late South African president?

Nelson Mandela Place in Glasgow City Centre? That was no coincidence.


In 1981, while Nelson Mandela was still locked up in Robben Island, Glasgow City Council awarded him the keys to the city, and following that, five years later in 1986, the people of Glasgow voted to rename St George’s Place to Nelson Mandela Place, which it has remained to this day.

St George’s Place at the time was also the address of the South African consulate, meaning that the South African Government having imprisoned Mandela, would be reminded of his incarceration each time they addressed an envelope to their consulate in Glasgow.

Glasgow became the first city in the world to recognise the people of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and also demanded something be done to stop the country wide oppression.

As far back as 1963 people in Glasgow were protesting to remove apartheid from South Africa. Brian Filling, a member of the Scottish Anti-Apartheid movement began protesting against the predominately white South African Government’s role in actively encouraging the oppression of the majority black inhabitants of South Africa.

In 1993, Nelson Mandela when speaking at a rally to 10,000 people in George Square said. “While we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6000 miles away and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system, and declared us to be free.”

george square nelson mandella

Glasgow was at the forefront of the battle to secure South Africa’s freedom, and following Glasgow’s declaration against apartheid many other cities and countries followed suit. by the time the declaration to secure his release reached the United Nations, 2500 mayors from 56 countries around the globe had signed it.

The United Nations in New York backed the mandate and because of Glasgow’s role in the Declaration, Lord Provost Michael Kelly, who initially gave Mandela the freedom of the city, was invited to speak first at the UN in New York.

Whilst locked up in Robben Island, Margaret Thatcher refused to acknowledge Mandela’s African National Congress as a legitimate party calling them “a typical terrorist organisation”.

At the time of his death Nelson Mandela had become one of the most cherished individuals in human history, for his refusal to give in to hate, even after 27 years imprisonment.

Thanks to himself and the President of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk (F.W. de Klerk) they secured the end of apartheid, and achieved equal rights for every citizen in South Africa. However nothing would have been possible, without first securing the freedom of the man they knew as Madiba.

nelson mandela bust glasgow

Nelson Mandela said it best in his speech, when he spoke of his gratitude to the city of Glasgow. “It is a special privilege to be a guest of this great City of Glasgow. It will always enjoy a distinguished place in the records of the international campaign against apartheid.

“The people of Glasgow in 1981 were the first in the world to confer on me the Freedom of the City at at time when my comrades and I in the ANC were imprisoned in Robben Island serving life sentences, which in apartheid South Africa then meant imprisonment until death.”

He continued. “Whilst we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city, 6000 miles away, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system and declared us to be free.”

In October 2014 Glasgow City Council unveiled a statue of the former South African President as a timeless reminded to the bond that was created between Madiba and the people of Glasgow.