Nelson Mandela to be first non

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

Queen Elizabeth will honour Nelson Mandela’s memory in a by-invitation-only service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday 3 March 2014.

Nelson Mandela to be first non

westminster abbey (Medium)Nelson Mandela will 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.

The queen will honour  the life and work of the former South African president in a by-invitation-only service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday 3 March.

The date has a special significance – Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison in Paarl on 11 February 1990 after 27 years behind bars, most of it sentenced to hard labour on the notorious Robben Island.

His release followed the relaxation of apartheid by SA President FW de Klerk and paved the way for the country’s first multi-racial elections in April 1994 when Mandela became President.

Her Majesty, 87, said she was deeply ­saddened by Mandela’s death and wanted to attend his funeral in South Africa but had been advised to avoid long-haul trips for travel and security reasons.

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.

He referred to her as “My friend, Elizabeth” and she referred to him as “this wonderful man”.

She was quick to meet him ­following his release from jail, going out of her way to welcome him at a Commonwealth summit in 1991, even though he wasn’t a head of state at the time.

Even so, the unprecedented memorial service is more likely a nod to Westminster Abbey’s “very firm links” with the Commonwealth rather than a personal request from Queen Elizabeth herself.

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. His statue opposite Sir Winston Churchill’s in Parliament Square was adorned with tributes following his death.

This marks an astonishing turnaround for a man classified as a terrorist by previous British governments – namely during Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister.