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'He was moving things forward'

AS he walked in front of tens of thousands of protestors as their human shield, the Scottish churchman found a South Africa rising in confidence under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

Former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend Alan McDonald, was a parish minister when he was asked to become an international peace monitor in the bloody run-up to the country's first democratic elections in 1994.

He was invited do so "because I had been a lawyer before becoming a minister and they were looking for people who were used to giving evidence".

The protesters were threatened with summary execution for taking to the dusty roadways and called on the church for strength and support.

Mr McDonald said the people "wanted to be sure that the world knew what was happening in the run-up to the election and that it would be peaceful". The army was using "all the tactics that they had done for years as part of the apartheid superstructure, so that was exactly the reason we were there".

Mandela's influence was huge, he said.

"Although I never met him, I felt as if I had.

"Everyone was talking about him and their eyes would just light up when they heard his name.

"It was an astonishing time to be there.

"You felt that he was in the background somewhere, just quietly moving things forward. It was an amazing experience."

The difficult duty of helping to police the police was met head-on by the Glasgow-born father-of-two.

He said: "An average day, if you like, as monitors is we would wait in the office, the phone would ring and a black township would say 'we are organising a protest march, and the police and the army have said we don't have permission, but we have said we are going to anyway and they say they'll shoot us, so we think if you come along, they won't shoot us'.

"We felt enormous confidence from the marchers, sometimes tens of thousands, who were behind you who were enormously encouraging and just so happy that you had come to help."

He said: "As church peace monitors, we would arrive at a black township and find maybe the United Nations monitors trying to find out where the action was.

"We simply just went to the local church and we were from the Church of Scotland and they said 'it's great to see you, come on in, this is where the march is starting'. So the Church had huge respect among the majority of the community and they were delighted to have us there."

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