Bid to rename Festival Square after Nelson Mandela

Candles and flowers are left at the Woman and Child statue in Festival Square, as Lord Provost signs the book of condolence, below. Picture: Neil Hanna
Candles and flowers are left at the Woman and Child statue in Festival Square, as Lord Provost signs the book of condolence, below. Picture: Neil Hanna
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FESTIVAL Square would be renamed in honour of Nelson Mandela under plans to be considered by city leaders.

The lasting legacy to the leader whose forgiveness inspired the world could be discussed by council chiefs as early as this week.

There is believed to be a groundswell of opinion in the corridors of power supporting the historic change, inspired by the campaigning icon’s death on Thursday at the age of 95.

The sudden loss of South Africa’s “father” has also inspired a petition which – in the space of just a few hours – had been signed by well over 400 people by late last night.

Indeed, the plaza has a historic connection to the former South African president, having been a meeting point for campaigners who opposed apartheid back in the 1980s.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, who met Mandela on two occasions and was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement, is one of the political big-hitters who believes Festival Square would be a “fitting” place to be renamed in his honour.

Cllr Hinds said: “It would be a celebration of Mandela and his life and the connection between Edinburgh and the anti-apartheid movement.”

Mandela led South Africa’s transition from white minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison for his political activities.

He died on Thursday at home where he had been receiving intensive medical care for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital.

In 1986 – when Mandela had been in prison for 23 years – a group of councillors called for the square to be named after him then.

But they lost the vote and it was named Festival Square instead to mark the festival’s 40th birthday.

A statue, Woman and Child, can be found there and represents all those killed or imprisoned for their stand against apartheid. It was designed by Suganya Chetty, a member of the African National Congress then living in exile in Edinburgh.

Cllr Hinds recalled: “In the 1980s the council worked with the anti-apartheid movement, and there was a strong connection between Edinburgh, South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement.

“At that time, in order to be awarded freedom of the city, you didn’t just need a majority, you needed a two-thirds majority. Dundee and Glasgow awarded him freedom of the city but at that time, we wouldn’t have had the support of the Conservatives.

“When he got his freedom, I proposed it. He was coming to Edinburgh for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and I thought that was an appropriate and important time to give him freedom of the city as many other cities had done, including my home city of Dundee.

“I think he’s such an inspiring person – he was in prison for all those years, and he came out and forgave people and worked for the best of his country.”

Cllr Maggie Chapman, who is of South African citizenship, has lodged a motion calling for Festival Square to be renamed. Council leader Andrew Burns has indicated it is likely to be discussed at this Thursday’s full council meeting.

Cllr Chapman said: “Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city and we really should have some sort of tribute to Nelson Mandela. We have a room in the City Chambers named after him but it’s a room that nobody really gets to see. Now is the time to come out and say yes as a city.”

It is hoped the renamed square would become as famous as Nelson Mandela Place in Glasgow. The name of the neighbouring authority’s street was changed from St George’s Place in 1986 in a show of support for the imprisoned campaigner and in defiance of the African authorities and Westminster.

Away from the fast-paced debate about the square’s possible rebranding, a book of condolence was opened in the City Chambers while the South African national flag was flown at half-mast alongside the Saltire outside the Scottish Parliament.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson was the first to sign the book of tributes.

He said: “I was greatly saddened to learn of Mandela’s passing. But I also felt a sense of relief that he can now be at rest. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends but also with the people of South Africa as they come to terms with their great loss.

“Edinburgh has a long and close association with South Africa and its struggle for equality and, of course, with Nelson Mandela himself.

“I would encourage people to sign the Book of Condolence and to reflect upon his great courage, strength and determination. His legacy and everything it represents will live on for generations to come.”

The Lord Provost has submitted his own motion to next week’s council meeting, calling for a report that explores how Edinburgh can create a lasting tribute to Mandela.

Over the years the city has paid the icon – who will be laid to rest in a state funeral on December 15 – a number of civic honours.

Mandela was made a Freeman of Midlothian in 1985, but was unable to collect the award until October 1993, when he came to Scotland as part of a European visit.

The same year students at Edinburgh University voted to name their association HQ in Potterrow the Mandela Centre.

In 1994 South Africa’s rainbow flag was flown from City Chambers to mark his election as president.

The leader was then awarded the Freedom of Edinburgh in 1997 on a visit to the Capital.

Edinburgh celebrated Mandela’s 90th birthday in 2008 by opening a book of commemoration to allow members of the public to send a personal message.

The following year, Aids campaigner and former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox met up with members of the African Children’s Choir to unveil a paving plaque outside the City Chambers honouring Nelson Mandela’s Aids charity 46664 – named after his prison number when he was on Robben Island.

The stone bears the words “It’s in our hands to win the fight against HIV” and features handprints from Lennox and a 15-year-old boy with HIV.

Books of condolence have also been opened for members of the public to sign at West Lothian Civic Centre, Livingston, Linlithgow Library and the Bathgate Partnership Centre.

West Lothian Council leader John McGinty said residents there have been flooding in to sign the book.

He said: “West Lothian joins millions across the world in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela who was a beacon of moral justice and, quite simply, inspiring and irreplaceable.

“He led the world in a quest for justice and equality and his legacy in striving for human rights for all will never be forgotten.

“He shaped the world we live in and his legacy will live on and inspire generations. Our thoughts are with his family and all South Africans.”

Midlothian Council has ordered flags to be flown at half-mast.

Midlothian Labour MP David Hamilton said: “He was a one of a kind, a world leader in every sense of the word.”

Prayers are expected to be said for Mandela at church services in East Lothian tomorrow.

Freedom of city award nearly never happened

THE presentation of the freedom of the city to Nelson Mandela almost didn’t happen, former Lord Provost Eric Milligan revealed today.

He said authorities in newly-democratic South Africa had insisted the anti-apartheid hero could not accept the city’s top accolade because of a blanket ban on him accepting titles and honours.

But unabashed, Councillor Milligan launched a cunning plan to get the president to agree to the award during a planned visit to the city for a Commonwealth conference in October 1997. He said: “They were very sensitive about the red carpet being rolled out all the time. Nelson Mandela was box office at that time.

“He was coming to the Commonwealth conference, but he wanted to come as one head of government among many others.

“The powers-that-be in Pretoria decided they would refuse all honours. It was easier to say no to them all rather than pick and choose which ones he would accept. I got a message from the South African high commissioner in London with the bad news that Mandela would not be able to accept the freedom of the city from Edinburgh.

“I phoned back and said this was very unusual and people did not refuse the freedom of the city.”

But with no sign of a change of heart, Cllr Milligan decided to take matters into his own hands. He said: “I went to receive Mandela at the airport and when he came down the steps I said to him ‘I hope it will be possible while you are here for me to extend to you the Freedom of Edinburgh’ and he said ‘I hope so’. I came back and called a press conference and announced Mandela had accepted the freedom of the city and just left the South African high commissioner to come to terms with that.

“That’s why the ceremony took place in the Caledonian Hotel while he was having his breakfast.

“Afterwards, I invited him to take a drink of Glenkinchie from a quaich. He was a teetotaller, but he said he had never tasted whisky and he would be delighted to have a drink of Glenkinchie from a cup of friendship because of the friendship between Scotland and South Africa.”

Gordon Brown recalls new dad phone call

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has relived the moment he was congratulated on the news he had become a father with a personal phone call from Nelson Mandela. Describing the call with Mandela after his son was delivered at the ERI, he said: “We’d both lost children and we had what was not a statesman-to-statesman conversation but a father-to-father conversation.”

Football fans to pay respects

Hearts and Hibs fans are expected to honour Mandela with a minute of applause before their teams kick-off today .

Scottish Professional Football League chiefs have recommended all clubs carry out tributes this weekend “as a mark of respect to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela”.

Both Capital teams are due to play today at 3pm.