Mandela: Book of condolence opened in Sheffield

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
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A book of condolence was opened at the Town Hall as Sheffield paid tribute today to Nelson Mandela.

Sheffield was the first city in Yorkshire to give the former South African president the freedom of the city in February 1993.

Councillors and members of the public queued up to sign the book today while the flag above the building flew at half mast.

Council leader Julie Dore was the first to express her feelings and recalled the city’s leading role in the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1970s and 80s.

“We are mourning the loss of a truly inspirational leader. Nelson Mandela was a fighter for democracy and fairness, a man who showed humility, compassion and humanity to others,” she said.

“He brought democracy to his own South Africa, championing peace and tolerance and his actions touched people around the world. He truly was a legend in our lifetime.

“Our thoughts are with the Mandela family at this sad time. His passing fills us with a deep and overwhelming loss, but his legacy will live on forever.”

Paul Blomfield, now MP for Sheffield Central, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison and set up and ran the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Sheffield in the 1970s.

He served on the movement’s National Executive for 16 years and secretly visited South Africa on a trip organised by the ANC after the Soweto uprising in 1976.

He said: “This is a moment to celebrate an extraordinary life. Mandela’s legacy is not his words, although he used them exceptionally, but by his actions.

“And that should be the measure of our response to his passing. Not by our eulogies, but by how we learn the lessons of his life. Here in the UK, and in countries around the world, Mandela’s life is a reminder of how we should approach the challenges we face.

“At the heart of all the tributes is the message of reconciliation. Let’s remember, apartheid was a system in which the tiny white minority separated and brutalised the majority of South Africans because of the colour of their skin. Mandela could have led a revolution which simply turned the tables. But he didn’t. Instead of revenge, he sought reconciliation.”

Mr Blomfield said thousands of ordinary Sheffielders were part of the campaign against apartheid.

“They protested outside banks and shops that supported the regime economically, campaigning for the sporting and cultural boycott of white South Africa and pressing our Government for action.

“Sheffield Council played a leading role too, co-ordinating action by local authorities across the UK. The defeat of apartheid should give us confidence in the power of popular action to bring change and justice.”

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said he had been privileged to meet Nelson Mandela three times.

He said: “This is a moment for celebrating a wonderful life, for taking inspiration from someone who was a true leader, but also a man who understood leadership was about engagement, about persuasion and - in the end - about that messy

business of compromise.

“Nelson Mandela has to be the most outstanding figure in politics in the 20th century, because against all the odds he managed to lead a nation from division and apartheid into democracy and cohesion.

“In assessing his life it is to be hoped that all those commenting will be able to draw the conclusion that democratic politics always trumps any alternative, and that action and engagement always trumps cynism and despair.”