Leicester’s National Apartheid Campaigns image

Leicester’s National Apartheid Campaigns

During 1970s and 1980s, the press reported on national and local issues and stories connected to the Black community. Popular issues covered in the press include the Anti-Apartheid campaigns that were taking place with marches and demonstrations in London. In Britain boycotts of South African goods and the Free Mandela campaigns began, Mandela was unfairly imprisoned in 1986 and to support his campaign in Leicester Welford Road Recreation Ground was renamed Nelson Mandela Park on 6 August 1986, and is operated by Leicester City Council. Councillor P. A. Soulsby, Leader of Leicester City Council (now current mayor of Leicester) opened the re-named park as Nelson Mandela Park. He said that, ‘Leicester City Council is not only committed to total opposition to Apartheid but is determined to carry out its duties to counter racial discrimination and promote good race relations and equal opportunities in Leicester. Along with countless others in this country and around the world I express my sincere hope that the freedom of Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners in South Africa comes soon – and the freedom of all the people who suffer under Apartheid.’ On Friday 1 August 2007, the local council held “Nelson Mandela Sports Festival”, as a celebration of 21 years of the park having held the name. A range of people instrumental in community politics were present including Councillor Gary Hunt and the  Mayor.  At the event, 21 trees were planted to mark the 21 years of the park and 21 wards of Leicester.

As part of Leicester’s boycotts of South African goods two Leicester workers and trade union militants, Ross Galbraith and Gary Sherriff (picture above) were sacked from Granby Plastics firm due to their action and demonstrations against a contract to supply goods to South African. The order for Nyloil (a plastic substitute for metal) was destined for South Africa. Their sacking led to a year-long campaign raising the case for workers’ sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

Groups from South Africa came to Britain to win support for their campaign to free South African people and prisoners such as Nelson Mandela. ‘Sisters of the Long March’ toured Britain, September – December 1988, to win support for South African workers in their long-running dispute with the British-owned company BTR Sarmcol. The Sisters were a seven-woman song and dance group from Natal. They took their show to over 20 venues all over the country. The year before, a theatre group set up by the BTR workers brought their play about the strike ‘The Long March’ to Britain. Both tours were sponsored by the British TUC and supported by the Anti – Apartheid movement.

The photo shows ‘Sisters of the Long March’ performing in Leicester at Highfields Workshop Centre (now African Caribbean Centre).They [the Sisters of the Long March] went back to South Africa.  Me and Gary were working and around about the same time we heard about what happened to one of them – you know her whole family had been killed and she’d been killed, you know, she’d fought for her life for a week or so…  And then, at the same time, the place where we worked tell us “oh we’ve got this great new order come in from South Africa”.  And, of course, the first thing was, as far as me and Gary were concerned, it wasn’t even debated as to whether we were going to work on it, we just weren’t and that was going to be the end of it.  …  Well…  obviously, we got sacked; and, based on our experience and stuff, we decided: right! Let’s see just how much [of a campaign] we can make out of this?”

Ross Galbraith, interviewed by Dr Gavin Brown, Associate Professor in Human Geography, 22 October 2012.


Nelson Mandela is still an important aspect of our history as the African and African Caribbean community celebrate the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela. As part of the Black History Month launch 2013, a local poet Boston ‘The Orator’ Williams was commissioned to write and perform poem for the anniversary of Nelson Mandela titled Madiba.


If only the words existed to describe the life of our Madiba

How truly blessed our ears would be

Forgive me of my shortcomings in the delivery of this ode

I can provide no amazing analogies or awe-inspiring synonyms

To describe the ubiquitous nature of his influence

To live, to protest, to be imprisoned and then to be praised for your cause

Is a road few could have hoped to endure


I expect many of you anticipate a verse full of praise

Again, I disappoint

Forgive me but I shall explain

Madiba once said


‘I was not a messiah but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances’. 


What he was saying was
Madiba could have been you; Madiba could have been me

Madiba spoke up, for a nation in need

When freedom was stifled

His voice allowed it to breathe

He was no messiah

He was like you, he was like me

1962, a year of great change

Brazil won the World Cup, Maryln Monroe died, Jamaica gained independence from the UK and Nelson Mandela was spent his first days inside


Unknown to the majority of the globe

It took the best part of 27 years for his stature to grow

Protest on protest

The calls for freedom echoed so hopeless


Political figures across the world divided by the subject

Could not have foreseen what was to happen next

Indeed, He was freed, yes!

Inauguration Day 1994, May 10th

Was inexplicably beautiful

A free South Africa,

Not yet equal but on the righteous path to be so

Imagine making the transition from captive to hero

From activist to president without the slightest inflation of ego

Humble at heart

Steady with mind

Our Madiba lives on

Until the absence of time


‘When a man has done what he conceives to be his duty to his people to his country. He can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort.’  – Nelson Mandela