Friday, 6 December 2013

The day the Glasgow police saluted Mandela

There will be thousands upon thousands of stories about Mandela today. Rightly, they will and should focus on the political legacy. But so many people mourning today will have forgotten the politics and the struggle, barely heard of them, or like Cameron, conveniently forgotten their university group's vile attacks on him.

But let me share something personal about the man. It was 1993, Glasgow, pissing rain. Thousands welcomed Nelson Mandela to Glasgow. A chance meeting with Lothian Region convener Keith Geddes and UNISON/NALGO general secretary Alan Jinkinson led to me being in the line-up to meet Mandela. I was in a red nylon hoodie and soaked to the skin.

I’ll never forget Mandela’s moving words, full of political significance, as he shook my hand. “You are very wet”, he said. He was easy with people. He was tired. But he so wanted to say thankyou to the movement that had supported a cause which, as many will have forgotten, at times was not that popular.

I kept the Mandela handshake hand in my pocket (leading to a failure to catch my camera when Jane Carolan knocked it over). I kept it there all the way home until I laid it on my young children’s foreheads in their cot. Daft I know but I’m still glad I did it and so are they. One has texted me tonight to more or less say so.

As Mandela left the stage that day, I went round the back to take a photo and met a woman from Namibia. As we watched him come down the scaffolding stairs to the empty space between the back of the stage and the city chambers, the South African national anthem struck up behind him.

It was pouring down but Mandela stopped and stood to attention halfway down the stairs, with nobody to see him, getting drenched as the assistant with the brolly had been left a couple of steps behind. A statement that he was now responsible for a nation as well as a movement.

I looked to the right. The only other people watching this were the woman from Namibia, me and, in front of the city chambers, a line of Glasgow polis standing to attention and saluting the man. Such a powerful vision that it still moves me to relate it to this day.

It says it all when it comes to the effect he had. From 'terrorist' to man saluted by Glasgow police. How we had moved on. Sadly, how much we still have to move on.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for those recollections, John. I had my young family with me, my 2 year-old son in his push chair. Although he remembers nothing of it, he is proud that we was present. My late brother got a smile and personal wave as he left and nobody left George Square without feeling they had made a personal connection with Madiba, such was his humanity.- Greg McCarra