Known and loved around the world for his commitment to peace, negotiation and reconciliation, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (b. 18th July 1918) was South Africa’s first democratically elected president (1994-1999). Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader, as well as a philanthropist.
To celebrate the centennial of Mandela's birth, we take a look back at when the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland awarded him an Honorary Fellowship at a ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa.
‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’ - Nelson Mandela
Professor Thomas Hennessy, President of the College conferred the Honorary Fellowship of the College on H.E Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic of South Africa on Wednesday, March 27th 1996.
|Mr. Nelson Mandela receiving an Honorary Fellowship from Prof. Thomas Hennessy, PRCSI.|
At a ceremony in Capetown a special bond between the College and South Africa was highlighted. In his citation honouring Mr. Mandela, the Vice-President of the College, Mr. Peter McLean recalled that many South Africans graduated from the College. “Over six hundred of our graduates are from South Africa. Many of them had to make huge sacrifices and struggle hard to acquire a medical qualification in Ireland. Most of them managed to return to their own country during difficult times to serve their communities. In that context then, it is particularly fitting for us to enroll President Mandela as an Honorary Fellow of our college”.
On completion of his education Nelson Mandela sacrificed a lucrative legal career for active membership of the African National Congress. A policy of democracy and non-racialism reflected his deepest conviction. The entire thrust of his energies and efforts went towards freedom and fulfilment for all African people in their own land. In the harsh climate of Apartheid this soon led to arrest. Twenty-seven years in prison followed in dismal conditions, which would have robbed an ordinary man of his spirit and dignity.
On Sunday afternoon, 11th February 1990, after ten thousand days incarceration, he strolled through the prison gates, viewed by a world audience that was truly overjoyed. His beautiful words to the crowds will be immortalised:“I greet you all in the name of Peace, Democracy and Freedom, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people”. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1993.
Conferring the Honorary Fellowship on Mandela, Professor Thomas Hennessy PRCSI remarked:
“In attempting to describe the career of President Nelson Mandela, language becomes speechless. I simply invite him to enter the Roll of Honorary Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and in so doing to honour and enrich our College and our people. I present to you Mr. President for Honorary Fellowship for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela”.
Responding, Mr Mandela referred to the opportunity availed of by many South African doctors to study at RCSI:
“During the dark days of apartheid your College provided places for many South Africans who were excluded by racist laws form the medical schools of their own country. More than 300 of the South African doctors practising medicine in our country today graduated in Dublin between 1950 and 1990.
Through these doctors, you are making a contribution to the healthcare needs of our people. As a college that is more than 200 years old, you have produced surgeons and physicians who have gone to many parts of the world including South Africa. I would single out especially the Irish religious doctors and nurses who worked in the past, and continue to do so today, among disadvantaged communities. They understand that health care, if it is to serve all the people, must begin with primary health care; and that is should form part of broader socio-economic programmes.
In conclusion, may I thank you sincerely for your offer of a scholarship to be held at your College by a South African wishing to study medicine. Like the educational assistance provided by the Irish Government, this scholarship indicated the desire of the Irish people to see South African succeed in its endeavour to build a better life for all. We are indeed grateful.”
|Prof. Thomas Hennessy and RCSI Council members congratulating Mr Nelson Mandela on receiving an RCSI Honorary Fellowship.|
|Copy of Honorary Fellowship awarded to Nelson Mandela.|
Council members of the RCSI included; Professor Barry O’Donnell, Chairman Finance Committee (Vice-President Elect); Mr. Arthur Tanner, Chairman College Committee. The Registrar, Professor Kevin O’Malley conducted the proceedings at which Mr Joseph G Grace, Director International Services RCSI was also present. Mr. Terry Slattery, Mace Bearer was in attendance on the President. Mr Ray Kearns, Chairman, Court of Patrons, RCSI was also present.
The graduates of RCSI were represented by: Dr. Abdul Khatree; Dr. Haroon Khamissa- Capetown Dr. Nasser Essack; Dr. Fawzi Moola- Durban.
The President of the South African College of Medicine Dr. D.P. Gordon Smith was present to represent the College of Medicine of South Africa together with the following members of that College: Professor John Terblanche. Professor Ralph Kirsch and Professor Sean Sellars.
Coincidentally, that same week, President Mary Robinson was on an official Irish State visit to South Africa where she gave an address to a joint session of the South African Parliament in Cape Town.
Listen to the then RCSI Head Porter and Mace Bearer, Mr Terry Slattery, reminisce on what were two very memorable occasions.