ONE of the world’s best-loved public figures was given the highest award in Brent.
The ailing former prisoner and president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, has visited the borough twice and was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Brent at a special meeting of the full council at the Town Hall on Monday.
The award was given to Mr Mandela – who led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and was jailed for 27 years because of his role – for his outstanding contribution to human rights, democracy and freedom of speech. An illuminated scroll and special casket was made.
Mr Mandela, 94, whose is critically ill in hospital at the time we go to press, first came to the borough as a fugitive in 1962 and gave a speech to Willesden Trades Council.
He was arrested shortly after returning to South Africa and sentenced to life in prison in 1964.
Following his release from prison in 1990, he revisited Brent where a Freedom Concert was held in his honour at Wembley Stadium.
During that visit, Mr Mandela, then deputy leader of the African National Congress in South Africa, met Brent’s then council leader, Dorman Long, who lobbied for the former prisoner to be given the Freedom of the Borough. However, this was blocked by Conservative councillors at the time.
The record of Mr Mandela’s 1990 visit was unearthed when Labour Councillor Jim Moher was clearing a cupboard in the Labour Group office ahead of the move to the new Civic Centre and found a wooden plaque commemorating the event.
Mr Moher, a keen historian, made some enquiries and found the scroll and casket were in the archives, so the Labour Group pressed ahead with officially conferring the honour.
Leader of Brent Council, Councillor Muhammed Butt, said: “It is a great honour to right a historic wrong and give Nelson Mandela the Freedom of the Borough that he should have had 23 years ago.
“Mr Mandela has a long history with our borough that goes all the way back to 1962 when he addressed the Willesden Trades Council and his life has had a huge impact on the history of our borough. I’m deeply saddened to hear of Mr Mandela’s illness and hope he makes a full recovery.”
Mr Mandela is only the second person to be given the accolade, following the long-serving artistic director of the Tricycle Theatre, Nicolas Kent.
In the early 1980s, a new street in Stonebridge was named Mandela Close in his honour.
The worldwide campaign to free Mr Mandela culminated in the 1988 concert at Wembley Stadium in London where international stars performed and thousands of people, watched by millions more watching on TV around the world, sang ‘Free Nelson Mandela’.