I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Nelson Mandela, an activist, statesman and President who embodied the struggle for freedom, justice and peace in South Africa. He spent more than 27 years of his life in prison but emerged from his sentence with a spirit of reconciliation. This spirit helped ensure the transition of a country previously divided by the Apartheid system into the modern South Africa without divisions based on race.
Before I was involved in politics myself I remember my sister taking action against Apartheid by refusing to buy products from South Africa and going on peaceful protests to show her support for Anti-Apartheid. Eccles MP Joan Lestor showed leadership against Apartheid by refusing Government hospitality to the British Lions rugby team which had broken sanctions to tour South Africa.
People and groups in Salford also took action and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid cause became known throughout the world. Mass support grew when bands performed at a concert calling for Nelson Mandela’s freedom at the age of 70, singing the anthem “Free Nelson Mandela".
In recognition of his great struggle for justice Salford proposed in 2004 to give Nelson Mandela the city's highest honour, the Freedom of the City. Salford artist, Harold Riley has said that Mr Mandela had ceased accepting honours like this but he accepted the honour from Salford in recognition of what people in Salford had endured during the Industrial Revolution.
Harold Riley was the only artist that Nelson Mandela ever sat for and the resulting portrait was sold for $1 million, which was donated at Mr Mandela’s request to help deprived children in South Africa. Harold Riley has now proposed to donate one of the sketches he made of Nelson Mandela to Salford if the city wants him to. This would be a fitting way to remember this remarkable statesman.
It is 23 years since Nelson Mandela gained his freedom from prison. Salford can be proud that this great man accepted an honour from Salford and that he chose a Salford artist to paint his portrait.