IN August 1981 Glasgow conferred the freedom of the city on Nelson Mandela. It was the first city in the world to grant him such an honour.

By that time Mandela had spent 17 years in South Africa’s Robben Island prison, having been sentenced to life at the end of the Rivonia trial in 1964.

The ceremony at Glasgow City Chambers was attended by 500 people, including representatives of 16 Commonwealth countries. Lord Provost Michael Kelly presented the Freedom certificate to Dr Alex Ekwueme, vice-president of Nigeria, on Mandela’s behalf.

Speaking to the BBC in 2018, Dr Kelly said: “It was a bold step for the Labour Party in Glasgow because Mandela was regarded as a terrorist by a lot of people and many people thought Glasgow should not become involved in this at all. So it was an uphill struggle and we received a lot of bad publicity, but eventually when Mandela’s story got through people began to see that we and he were in the right”.

Five years later, in mid-June 1986, with Soweto described as being in a state of tense apprehension on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the student riots, Glasgow District Council made another meaningful gesture, with St George’s Place being renamed Nelson Mandela Place.

The ceremony was carried out by Essop Pahad (right), a London-based member of the African National Congress. He said the Mandela family would be delighted by the renaming: “I think it is very important. It is a further reflection and manifestation of support not only for Mandela, but for the ANC and the people of South Africa”.

Some offices and retailers in the street, however, insisted that they would ignore the new name and revert to the original postal address of West George Street. Among them, pointedly, was the South African Consulate, which said it would use the address 69 West George Street.

Two hundred people attended the ceremony, with not one dissenting voice in the crowd, but at the City Chambers, where the ANC flag was flying, nine protesters waved anti-ANC posters as Mr Pahad arrived to address a public meeting.

Tomorrow: Mandela in Glasgow.

Read more: Herald Diary