Nelson Mandela inside the City Chambers, George Square, Glasgow, Scotland, on 9th October 1993. Mandela was in Glasgow to receive the 'Freedom of the City' honour. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1993, all rights reserved.

Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013.

I remember where I was twenty three years ago, on Sunday, February 11th 1990. I remember it clearly. I was sitting in a  little blue Ford Fiesta car, for which I can still remember the registration number, my first car. I was stopped at traffic lights in Charing Cross, Glasgow, and the radio was on. I forget where I was driving to, but I remember the announcer on the radio speaking excitedly as he described, live on air, Nelson Mandela taking his first steps of freedom out of South Africa’s Victor Verster prison after 27 years or incarceration, holding wife Winnie’s hand, and punching the air with his clenched fist. I can see it all before me, the view from the car, the traffic lights waiting to change to green, and I can hear the radio. Twenty three years ago already.

I didn’t think then that I would really ever get the chance to meet or to photograph Nelson Mandela. But in October 1993, I got an assignment late on a Friday night I think to go to Glasgow’s Hilton Hotel to photograph the arrival of Nelson Mandela in the city. Mandela had come to Glasgow to be awarded the Freedom of The City over the following two days. I think it was a Friday night, quite late, and I waited in the lobby area of the hotel with a fellow photographer Wattie Cheung, and some others I think. At last Mandela arrived, and as he walked though the doors, through the reception area, everyone in the lobby stopped. Everyone stood and everyone applauded. It took Mandela a few minutes to walk though to the elevators, everyone wished to shake his hand. An impromtu line formed and graciously he walked his way along, beaming a smile, shaking hands. In the background a bagpiper played on his pipes. As Mandela neared the elevator he was in front of me, I decided to forget about the picture and held out my hand. He shook it, smiled, walked on.

Over the next two days I worked on the story, shooting copious amounts of black and white film, on my Nikons and Leicas, as Mandela met council leaders and had a small street named after him (Nelson Mandela Square). It rained on the saturday, but the good citizens of Glasgow, always a political Socialist bunch, waited patiently in the rain to see Mandela. He arrived on the podium, and wooed the crowds with his speeches and dancing in George Square.

Citizens of Glasgow wait in the rain for a chance to see Nelson Mandela in Glasgow, Scotland, on 9th October 1993. Mandela was in Glasgow to receive the ‘Freedom of the City’ honour. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1993, all rights reserved.

The following day ( I think, it was many years ago after all…) he spoke at the Royal Concert Hall. Again, myself and my fellow photographers were there, to watch and photograph as Mandela gave an impassioned speech. I remember I was in the front row, not so far from him, shooting on my 180mm lens I had at the time. Again shooting in black and white. I’d managed to procure a 2nd press pass and gave it to my then girlfriend, she slung a camera over her shoulder, pretending to be press, and came in and listened to Mandela. Now, I slightly regret concentrating so much on the photography that morning and remember little of his speech. But probably I remember more than one photographer, whom I shall spare the embarrasment by not naming, who during Mandela’s speech, answered his ringing mobile phone, in the front row this is, and held a hushed conversation.

Nelson Mandela inside the City Chambers, George Square, Glasgow, Scotland, on 9th October 1993. Mandela was in Glasgow to receive the ‘Freedom of the City’ honour. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1993, all rights reserved.

I think in total that weekend I shot 17 rolls of film, b/w, colour, and colour transparency. (Click here for photographs of Nelson Mandela in Glasgow, Scotland, 1993.)

But when you feel you’ve had your chance, Lady Luck comes calling again. In 2002 there were rumours Mandela would come to Glasgow to pay a social visit to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the so-called Lockerbie Bomber, who at the time was incarcerated in Glasgow’s infamous Barlinnie Prison. Of course, Mandela on a private visit in Scotland is never going to be such a thing. The media, myself included, descended on the gates of Barlinnie Prison. We were repeatedly told it was to be a private visit and there would be no media event. But things changed. Mandela had swept past in his car, into the prison, and at some point we were ushered inside the walls. I remember being shown to a room for the impromtu press conference, me, fellow photographer Graeme Hunter, and loads of other photographer colleagues. We all crushed and crowded to be next to the desk where Mandela would sit. Then an announcement, there was to be no flash photography. Mandela did not want flashes blinding him, all those years of hard labour in the quarry on Robben Island had made his eyesight vulnerable. The photographers were dismayed, we were sitting in a room within a high security prison, and there were no windows. It wasn’t the brightest of rooms, or the most photogenic. And then, a second announcement, all photographers had to leave their equipment on the floor and leave the room. We were only to be allowed back in once Mandela had entered the room and sat down at the table. Cue chaos. We all left our equipment, we left the room. In our absence Mandela enters and sits. We get let back in and of course there is no orderly single file holding hands walk to the front by the members of her Majesty’s press. Mad dash run. Chaos. Then we shoot whilst Mandela gives his impromtu press conference, sitting waving his hands, wearing his exotically patterned shirt which certainly made that part of Glasgow a cheerier place that day. (Click here for photographs of Nelson Mandela in Barlinnie Prison, Scotland.)

Nelson Mandela gives an impromtu press conference after a social visit to the so-called ‘Lockerbie Bomber’ Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, in Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow, Scotland, on 10th July 2002. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2002, all rights reserved.

In early 2006 I finished up a Southern Ocean ship-based assignment in Cape Town. I’d been there before but had never the time to visit Robben Island. So on this occasion at the end of the assignment I made a few days holiday in South Africa, to decompress from 82 days at sea, living on a ship. One of my first stops was to take the ferry to Robben Island, to do the bus tour and listen to a former inmate speak of life in the prison there. And of course to shuffle along the corridor with many other tourists to look into the empty prison cell where Nelson Mandela had spent much of his incarceration. (Click here to see photographs of Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island cell, and the prison.)

And then tonight, just home from a photo event, and checking Twitter before bed, and I see the news we all knew would come one day “Just in: South African President Jacob Zuma says Nelson Mandela is dead.”  So with sadness we post these images of Nelson Mandela in Glasgow, and this little personal story of the times he came here.

Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013.

All images and text are Copyright © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1993-2013, all rights reserved.

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert on Twitter @JshPhotog

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1 thought on “Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013.

  1. In our own way, we are all a stitch in the rich tapestry of history…some more than others ….a sad day for many.

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