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Singer reflects on day she danced with Mandela in George Square

SHE was the acclaimed South African singer who performed for Nelson Mandela during his historic appearance in Glasgow more than 20 years ago.

Stage PRESENCE: Marah Louw's dance with Nelson Mandela in George Square, Glasgow, made headlines around the world. Picture: Paul Hackett
Stage PRESENCE: Marah Louw's dance with Nelson Mandela in George Square, Glasgow, made headlines around the world. Picture: Paul Hackett

And it was that performance on stage in George Square when Marah Louw shared a dance with the late former president that remains one of the standout images of his triumphant visit to Scotland.

A year later she sang at Mandela's inauguration and for the Freedom Day Celebrations at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

But in her first Scottish interview since Mandela's death, Louw has told how the Glasgow event will always hold the utmost significance for her.

It had been a typically wet morning in Glasgow on the October 9, 1993. On most occasions, it would have been like any other day of the week. Yet this was no ordinary day. A crowd had gathered in George Square and a sense of anticipation hung in the air.

"I was the first South African artist to dance with Tata Madiba in front of the International media in Glasgow in 1993," she recalls. "The news made headlines with our picture on front pages around the world. I'm forever humbled by that experience."

She added: "It's always humbling to be asked to perform for Royalty and Heads of State. There's no comparison really because each event is very special. But each time I used to pinch myself before walking onto the stage just to make sure that I wasn't dreaming. The best part of it is when they join me on stage to dance like Madiba used to always do."

Marah was born in Soweto, South Africa, and began singing at age 10. Her career in the music industry has been phenomenal. From performing around the world, to performing for Royalty. From receiving two life-time achievement awards to singing for Mandela on several occasions.

"The event in Glasgow was the most special. I was invited by Brian Filling - Chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Scotland. I had previously met Brian when he came to visit South Africa after Tata Madiba's release. He saw me performing at some event and later asked me if I would like to come to Glasgow as a part of this historic occasion honouring Mandela with the freedom of the cities.

"My feeling was that of disbelief. I was very excited and at the time, I was married to a Scotsman from Kincardine, Fife. So this was doubly exciting for me because it was also an opportunity to visit Scotland in the company of a great man, Mandela. Nothing could beat that."She spoke of the Scottish connection between Glasgow and South Africa and the fact that the Anti-Apartheid movement in Glasgow played a big part in South African's struggle to seal the eventual release of Mandela. "I am grateful to have been a part of it," she said.

Mandela died on December 5 aged 95. Ten days of commemorations followed. As the Scottish figure who brought Mandela to Glasgow, Brian Filling was prominent in paying tribute to the world statesman.

Recalling now Louw's performance on that special day in Glasgow, he said: "She has a lot of charisma on stage. So she had already captured the audience, singing African songs, some of which some people would know and there were other songs that were in English that they would know. Then when she was in the middle of a song, she got Mandela to dance and that was the highlight for a lot of people and it's what they remember."

Filling said Louw performed several times on the day Mandela addressed the crowds in George Square. "She also sang at a later rally, that same day in the concert hall. Then we had a ceilidh that night in the city chambers which she also performed at."

He added: "After that, going into the New Year 1994 and running up to the election, Marah did a tour of the nine cities that had given Mandela the freedom of the city, plus a few others, as a fundraising tour for the election. So she toured the UK, it started in Glasgow and ended in London.

"As her dance with Mandela became so iconic, we were able to really run the tour from that, with the programme for the tour featuring a picture of that moment. So it worked really well. We've brought her back several times since then."

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