On Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday

On his 95th birthday, we can only hope that South Africa’s presidency is correct and that Nelson Mandela’s health is “steadily improving”; that he is comfortable and not in pain. This Mandela Day, South Africans like these Soweto schoolchildren, have been singing “happy birthday” to their former President with more gusto than ever, and across the country people are undertaking charitable or community work to mark the day.

The role played by UK activists in supporting and leading the international campaign against Apartheid’s injustices is well-documented, but less well known is the part played by trusts and foundations. The pages of ‘A History of the Barrow Cadbury Trust,’ published in March, reveal for the first time that during the 1980s, the Barrow and Geraldine S. Cadbury Trust (as it was then know) used its resources to advance the anti-Apartheid cause in South Africa, through personal support to the Mandela family.

Anthony Wilson, then Trust Secretary (the equivalent of our Chief Executive today), worked closely with Donald Woods, the white South African journalist whose flight from the country as a result of his political activities was memorably portrayed in the film ‘Cry Freedom’. Using an organisation called the Lincoln Trust, they made funds available for Mandela’s then wife Winnie to pay monthly visits to him on Robben Island. The funding, which was kept completely confidential, was granted because Trustees believed that:

“These visits have a political as well as humanitarian aspect. Maintaining contact with Nelson Mandela provides a source of hope to the black population.”

While history’s judgement on Winnie Mandela may not be favourable, those visits to her husband must have provided a solace and line of regular contact with the outside world that can only have strengthened him during lonely and powerless years. South Africa’s first black President will be remembered as a man whose commitment to peace as well as equality prevented the descent into bloody violence that many thought inevitable when the Apartheid regime came to an end in the early 1990s. Today, Mandela’s name resonates as a synonym for courage, strength and dignity – and the Trust is proud to have played a tiny role in his remarkable story.

From all the Trust: Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela.