Camden Council flies flag at half-mast as Ed Miliband leads Nelson Mandela tributes

MP Frank Dobson watches Nelson Mandela pay a personal tribute to prominent anti-apartheid activists

MP Frank Dobson watches Nelson Mandela pay a personal tribute to prominent anti-apartheid activists Ruth First and Joe Slovo in 2003 at their former home in Lyme Street, Camden Town. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

The flag above Camden’s Town Hall is flying at half-mast today following the death of former President of South Africa and anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela.

The South African flag flies at half-mast above Camden Town Hall

The South African flag flies at half-mast above Camden Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Mr Mandela, who spent 27 years behind bars for standing up to the apartheid regime, died yesterday at his home in Johannesburg after battling a lung infection.

He was 95-years-old.

As a victim of a racist white-minority rule, the Nobel Peace Prize winner will be remembered most for his efforts to unite the country’s black and white communities.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party and Dartmouth Park resident, said the world had lost “the inspirational figure of our age”.

He said: “Nelson Mandela taught people across the globe the true meaning of courage, strength, hope and reconciliation.

“From campaigner to prisoner to President to global hero, Nelson Mandela will always be remembered for his dignity, integrity and his values of equality and justice.

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“He was an activist who became President and a President who always remained an activist. Right to the end of his life he reminded the richest nations of the world of their responsibilities to the poorest.

“Above all, he showed us the power of people, in the cause of justice, to overcome the mightiest obstacles.

“He moved the world and the world will miss him deeply.

“During the struggle against apartheid, the Labour party was proud to stand with the people of South Africa in solidarity. Today we stand with the people of South Africa in mourning.”

Mr Mandela’s visit to Camden in 2003 to unveil a plaque commemorating anti-apartheid campaigners Joe Slovo and Ruth First made a marked impact on the borough, which became something of a safe-haven for exiles.

Ms First – a South African national born in 1925 – spent the majority of her life campaigning against the horrors of the apartheid regime.

She was exiled to the UK following her detention in solitary confinement under South Africa’s notorious “90-day” laws in 1964 for her attacks on the government.

With her husband Joe Slovo – leader of the South African Communist Party – already in the UK, the family settled into a home in Lyme Street, Camden Town, where they lived from 1966 to 1978.

Mr Slovo was a key figure in bringing a new democratic order to South Africa.

He met and befriended Nelson Mandela while at university and later acted as his legal counsel during his imprisonment.

On one occasion, he even hatched a prison escape plan for Mandela involving “bribes, copies of keys and a false beard to be sewn into the shoulder pad of a jacket”.

Forced into exile, Mr Slovo found himself working tirelessly for the cause and became friends with the late Ralph Miliband, a fellow Marxist and the father of the Labour leader and former Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

David Miliband said: “I was brought up to be a bit sceptical of the ‘Great Man’ theory of history — but Nelson Mandela’s life shows how personal character, values and personality at the top can make and break nations.

“His passing after a long, arduous, successful and momentous life is rightly an occasion for saluting and celebrating as well as mourning.

“‘Free Nelson Mandela’ was in a way the political soundtrack for my generation.

“His incarceration was the tip of the apartheid iceberg — along with the daily humiliations and irregular killings that were a feature of the regime.

“One of my first political memories is of the reporting of the assassination of the wife of one of his political allies, Ruth First.

“The campaigns in the 1980s for the West to take some responsibility for change in South Africa seemed so clear to me as a university student urging divestment of college funds from South Africa.

“Nelson Mandela was an example for politicians but also for people, in the way he lived his life and the way he treated others.

“Mandela taught humility, principle, loyalty, endurance, commitment.

“It somehow seems more poignant to have been able to visit his cell on Robben Island this March while he was still alive.

“Tennyson’s phrase ‘the cause endures, the dream will never die’ seems especially apt today.”

A book of condolence has been opened within the Old Town Hall’s main reception on Judd Street, in which members of the public are able to leave their own tributes.