Nelson Mandela could be first non-Brit honoured at Westminster Abbey

Sensitive negotiations are taking place between the South African High Commission and UK authorities concerning a potential memorial service for Nelson Mandela at Westminster Abbey when the time comes – a move that would make him the first non-Briton to be honoured in such a way.

westminster abbey (Medium)Nelson Mandela could become the first non-Briton to be honoured with a memorial service at Westminster Abbey – the iconic venue that has been the coronation church for every British monarch since 1066 and the burial place of 17 royals.

Spokesman for the Abbey, Duncan Jeffrey, confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that discussions were ongoing between UK authorities and the South African High Commission to hold a ceremony at the historic location after Mandela passes away. Jeffrey denied the suggestion claimed in South Africa’s Sunday Independent that the ceremony was being held at the request of Queen Elizabeth – but said that Westminster Abbey’s “very firm links” with the Commonwealth were the reason for potentially holding such an unprecedented service .

If Mandela, currently spending his 25th day in hospital, were to be honored at Westminster Abbey at a service attended by the Queen, it would mark an astonishing turnaround for a man classified as a terrorist by previous British governments – namely during Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister.

Nelson Mandela has always enjoyed a close relationship with the Queen – having been the first foreign recipient of an Order of Merit when she visited him in South Africa a year after he came to power. The following year, on his visit to London, he danced with her during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

A palace insider agreed that the two enjoyed a “very warm relationship” but stressed that no decisions could be made while he was still alive – determined to be sensitive to the fact that South Africa’s former president’s health is said to be “improving” as he enters his fourth week of treatment in a Pretoria hospital for a reoccurring lung infection.

Prayers for Mandela have already been included in daily Eucharists at the Abbey and the Church of England has published a prayer for use by individuals and communities of prayer which includes the words: “Look with mercy on Madiba Mandela; And on all your children in South Africa.”

In light of what would be a unique move on behalf of the United Kingdom and Westminster Abbey, it is important to remember that Mandela has always been treated as a unique case by the British government. During a state visit to London in 1996 – once he had become South South Africa’s first black president – he was accorded the rare honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. Today, his statue stands opposite Sir Winston Churchill’s in Parliament Square.

Although Jeffrey emphasised “it is too premature to discuss these things while Mr Mandela is still with us”, the tentative talks concerning an Abbey tribute would be a wonderful international acknowledgment of everything he did not only for South Africa, but for the world.