Mandela tributes pour in from academia

Universities across the UK have been paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, who has died at the age of 95.

December 6, 2013

South Africa

News of the Mr Mandela’s death broke on the evening of 5 December, and followed a two-year battle with a series of lung infections.

Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, made the announcement on national television, saying that the nation had lost “its greatest son”.

Mr Mandela studied law through the University of London’s International Programmes, with much of his study taking place between 1964 and 1990, the time he spent in prison – including 18 years in the infamous Robben Island jail.

He started a law degree, but the conditions imposed in prison prevented him from completing it. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in economics by the University of London.

“Nelson Mandela will always be remembered by all of us at the University of London as the greatest champion of freedom, equality and justice, who helped transform the world we live in,” said University of London vice-chancellor Adrian Smith.

“On behalf of all staff and students at the University of London, our condolences go out to Nelson Mandela’s family at a time of great sorrow for them and the world at large.”

In 1981, Mr Mandela received more than 7,000 votes in an election to determine the University of London’s next chancellor. He lost out to Princess Anne, who secured 58 per cent of the ballot.

The National Union of Students, which was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement, also paid tribute.

Toni Pearce, NUS president, said: “Students across the UK formed a pivotal part of the anti-apartheid movement and in supporting Mandela in his long walk to freedom.

“Mandela’s humility and humanity in the face of that adversity and his refusal to be consumed by bitterness taught a truly humbling lesson to the world.”

In 2004, he also received an honorary doctorate from the Open University. Vice-chancellor Martin Bean described the former president as a “towering international figure who embodied the principles of social justice, equality and opportunity”. 

In a tribute posted on the University of Warwick website, emeritus professor in the department of sociology, Robert Fine, wrote: “Mandela will be missed today not because he was a perfect role model – he was certainly no saint – but because he knew what was important in life and represented something authentic in the South African revolutionary tradition.

“Now that he has gone, I wonder what is in store for the revolution, which his presence did much to foster and civilise but which his aura served to insulate from the normal processes of intellectual and political criticism.”

In a Bournemouth University blog, lecturer and researcher in political communication Darren Lilleker reflected on the impact that Mr Mandela’s life had on his own development.

“I was sixteen, with the usual cares of a sixteen-year old boy, with some interest in history and politics but limited. Apartheid was a word that was known and I remember happily signing petitions against it,” he wrote.

“His release six years later was part of the new dawning of democracy, of freedom…he showed the world a very important lesson. It is not revenge but reconciliation that rebuilds a society; his path to power was not on the back of civil war but a desire for civil society.”

The morning after Mandela’s death, students gathered in the Front Quad at Wadham College, Oxford, to sing the Jerry Dammers protest song Free Nelson Mandela. In 1987, the college students’ union passed a motion to play the song until Mandela was freed, and current president Anya Metzer confirmed that the song is still played at the end of every college party.

Reader's comments (1)

I wonder if the University of London are aware of the disconnect between their response to protest and the values they praise Mandela for?

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented