When Mandela Came to Willesden
IT has been said that when great revolutionaries and fighters for the oppressed die they are turned into harmless ikons, the better to dupe the masses, by those who hated everything they stood for when alive. In the cae of Nelson Mandela, the hypocritical beatification has happened while he was still alive, and though we might discuss the reasons another time, we can see that with the 94-year old ex-president's life possibly near an end, only Nazi Nick Griffin thought his likely death a laughing matter,
Mandela was admitted to hospital with a chronic lung infection, contracted during his 27 years in an Apartheid prison cell. It was while he was held, and people campaigned for his release, that Margaret Thatcher condemned him as a "terrorist", and Tory students sported "Hang Nelson Mandela" tee shirts.
Even after his release, to commence the largely peaceful transition for which those with South African interests must feel genuinely grateful, Tories were reluctant to greet his success or relax their hostility and prejudice. The traces of British ssupport to Inkatha and even to diehard South African white racists may never be uncovered, but more open Tory attitudes have been remembered.
This week, as admirers held their breath, the London Borough of Brent awarded the freedom of the borough to Mandela. It may be a bit late for him to come and enjoy it, but as a letter in the Guardian explains, there are reasons why it was belated.
The Brent Labour group first recommended the freedom of Brent for Nelson Mandela in April 1990, after he came to a concert at Wembley following his release from prison (Diary, 26 June). This was to thank UK and Brent campaigners for his release. Unfortunately, their recommendation to confer the honour was frustrated by the abstention of the Tory group and so failure to achieve the required majority. Our attempt to go ahead anyway was prevented by a high court injunction by the then Tory leaders, with costs of £10,000 levied against the Labour leader and mayor. It is an indication of how opinion in Britain has changed towards Mandela that all Tory councillors voted with us this time in a unanimous vote. Some weeks ago, when we were moving office, we found the original 1990 "Welcome Mandela" plaque. This was presented to the high commission of South Africa on Monday, who have agreed it will be displayed permanently in our new civic centre in Wembley.
Cllr Jim Moher
Executive council, London borough of Brent
Mandela came to Wembley in 1990, but that was not the first time he had spoken in the North-West London borough.
In 1962 Nelson Mandela came briefly to London for 11 days in June (whilst having gone “underground" following the treason trial) before returning to South Africa where he was soon arrested and imprisoned.
Whilst in London well known trades council activist Tom Durkin arranged for Mandela to address the Willesden Trades Council and was immensely proud Willesden Trades Council (now part of Brent) had hosted his last political meeting outside South Africa. In his autobiography Mandela wrote "In London I resumed my old underground ways, not wanting word to leak back to South Africa that I was there. But I was not a recluse; my ten days there were divided between ANC business, seeing old friends and occasional jaunts as a conventional tourist." On Friday, June 8 he met senior ANC members in exile, Yusuf Dadoo and Vela Pillay, and the following Sunday he met Milton Obote, the Prime Minister of Uganda. Then meetings with David Astor, the editor of The Observer, Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, and Joe Grimmond, leader of the Liberal Party.
(150 Years of Union Struggle, A Celebration of the Trades Council Movement in London, published by Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils).
On Brent Trades Union Council, which succeeded the old Willesden and Wembley TUCs when the two London boroughs were merged, we are naturally proud of the tradition established by our predecessors, and will be seeking out memories and reports of that 1962 meeting.
Meanwhile the trades council remains engaged in the current struggle against racism,. This evening at 6pm supporters, including witnesses of a brutal racist attack which happened last week near where we meet, will be going to Wembley police station to raise concern as to whether this incident is being propeerly investigated.
Community protest as Police lose CCTV evidence of unprovoked racist attack in Willesden
Please note this is at 6pm and not as stated in this report.