Lambeth council leader, Cllr Lib Peck and Mayor Cllr Mark Bennett have led tributes to Nelson Mandela, whose visit to Brixton in 1996 drew huge crowds.
The then South African president visited Lambeth on Friday, July 12, 1996 ahead of an official attendance at South Africa House and Buckingham Palace.
Brixton took on the atmosphere of a street party as estimated crowds of 10,000 came out to meet their hero. He visited the Brixton Rec, accompanied by Prince Charles and Lambeth council’s then chief executive Heather Rabbatts.
Such was the greeting he was afforded, Mr Mandela told them as he left: “I love you all. I wish I had big pockets so that when I leave I could take you home to South Africa.”
Cllr Mark Bennett, Mayor of Lambeth, said: “The death of Nelson Mandela is a moment of great sadness for all who value freedom and equality in the world. The remarkable achievements of his life, almost a third of which was spent in incarceration at the hands of the Apartheid regime, will be long remembered.
“After his release from jail, he set about an extraordinary reshaping of attitudes, not only in South Africa but across the world. Extraordinary because, for a man who could have been driven by vengeance, his driving principle was forgiveness.
“As Mayor of Lambeth, I am proud that Madiba visited Brixton in 1996. He was greeted with huge joy by the people of Lambeth. His visit is talked of vividly by those who gathered on the day. It was a cathartic moment for many who had campaigned against Apartheid, or stood against inequality in all its forms here in the UK, to get a glimpse of a living, breathing, smiling icon of their beliefs.
“I met Madiba a few years later in 2000. A brief meeting, but the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. He truly had greatness. His long life may have ended, but his great work must continue.”
Cllr Peck said: “This is a sad day for the world – we have lost one of our heroes. The adoration with which he was met when he came to Brixton speaks volumes of his importance not just in ending Apartheid in South Africa but his status here in Lambeth as a symbol of hope, of possibility and of courage.”
Cllr Lorna Campbell, cabinet member for equalities and communities, said: “Nelson Mandela inspires the work we do bringing the different communities of Lambeth together and is the reason we place so much emphasis on building a peaceful borough.”
Cllr Ashley Lumsden, leader of the Lib Dem group said: “Nelson Mandela overcame his own battles and, in so doing, became an inspiration for future generations of men and women who have refused to accept inequality and reject any limitations society may place upon them.”
Cllr John Whelan, leader of the Conservative group said: “Nelson Mandela was a remarkable man and helped bring about reconciliation between South Africa’s diverse communities. His life saw him overcome his loss of liberty as a prisoner to become a symbol of liberty in the world and the first black president of South Africa.”
Devon Thomas is a long-standing Brixton resident, businessman and campaigner who helped organise Nelson Mandela’s visit and met him inside Brixton Rec. He said: “On that lovely sunny day when he came to town, the crowds were ecstatic. He was a mythological figure. People had written poems and books and made records about him but no one had seen him.
He was regarded as a symbol of freedom — a black man who had been part of a movement that had overcome oppression and adversity and persevered to the extent of being voted in as president of the most powerful country in Africa.”
Paul Reid was among the crowds to greet Mr Mandela in 1996 and is now is director of the Black Cultural Archives Centre, which celebrated work beginning on its new home in Brixton’s Windrush Square on Saturday June 8.
He said: “The importance of black culture in Lambeth cannot be overstated and Nelson Mandela’s visit here in 1996 and the celebration it caused among locals young and old inspires us to this day.”
A book of condolence has been opened by Lambeth’s mayor Cllr Mark Bennett at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton to help those who wish to express their sympathies to Mr Mandela’s family and country.