Maggie Chapman: Why we should have ‘Mandela Square’

Flowers and scarves left at the Woman and Child statue in Festival Square. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
Flowers and scarves left at the Woman and Child statue in Festival Square. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
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Troublemakers are often regarded as best forgotten; certainly not worth commemorating in the form of a civic square in a capital city. However, there is at least one troublemaker that I think Edinburgh should remember, remember now, and remember formally by renaming Festival Square Mandela Square.

Rolihlahla Mandela certainly lived up to the name his parents gave him – Rolihlahla meaning troublemaker in Xhosa. He caused trouble for his university; he caused trouble for his political opponents; he caused trouble for criminal justice systems around the world. Most of all, he caused trouble for the racist architects of apartheid South Africa.

I am third generation African. My parents left South Africa in the 1970s, moving to war-torn Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), when most white people were travelling in the opposite direction. Whilst I doubt I fully understood the impact apartheid had on people, of all ethnicities, I thought it very strange that none of my cousins in South Africa had the same multi-racial experience that I had in Zimbabwe.

I remember, very clearly, the day Chris Hani, second only in popularity to Mandela in the liberation struggle, was assassinated. We were visiting family in what is now Kwazulu-Natal, and most people, black and white, predicted bloody violence. There were riots, but nothing like the expected unrest. This was, in part, attributed to the appeal made by Mandela: “Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who ... wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us”.

Nelson Mandela – Madiba – personified the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He was central to the peaceful transition to majority rule in the early 1990s; it is almost certain that he prevented a civil war. He did not do this on his own, but his role was immense: without him tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of South Africans could have been killed.

I now call Edinburgh home. As Scotland’s capital city, I believe Edinburgh must etch the life of this man into its urban fabric, as every generation does. Not because he alone stood for the end to apartheid, and certainly not because the struggle against racism and inequality is over. Indeed, it is because there is still so much to do, in South Africa, in Scotland, to deliver Mandela’s promise of equality and freedom from oppression to people, that we should create a permanent and high profile 

Renaming Festival Square Mandela Square would signify the prioritisation by the city of the struggle for justice over corporate power. It was always meant to be Mandela Square, and a civic square where people can congregate, contemplate Ann Davidson’s Woman and Child statue, and remember that the struggle continues, which seems to be the best, living tribute to a great man.

Maggie Chapman is Green councillor for Leith Walk and co-convener of the Scottish Green Party