Friday, 6 December 2013

RIP Nelson Mandela

18 July 1918 - 05 December 2013

Among his many other achievements, Nelson Mandela played a significant and honourable part in the Lockerbie affair.  Here are a few excerpts from posts on this blog over the years.

Saturday, 12 January 2008  He [Abdelbaset Megrahi] spoke affectionately and admiringly of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who had visited him in prison, saying that Mandela refused to be accompanied by any British official when he visited him in his prison in Scotland. He added that Mandela also called him when he was visiting the Netherlands because his Dutch hosts had told him that he cannot visit him in prison as it would be a breach of protocol.

Friday, 18 July 2008  (on Mandela’s 90th birthday) 'With so much having been written about the man, the best insights can, perhaps, be gleaned from his 'lesser' successes rather than his iconic triumphs. Nowhere is this more evident than in his mediation on the Lockerbie issue. Mandela took a particular interest in helping to resolve the long-running dispute between Gaddafi's Libya, on the one hand, and the United States and Britain on the other, over bringing to trial the two Libyans who were indicted in November 1991 and accused of sabotaging Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed at the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, with the loss of 270 lives. As early as 1992, Mandela informally approached President George Bush with a proposal to have the two indicted Libyans tried in a third country. Bush reacted favourably to the proposal, as did President Mitterrand of France and King Juan Carlos of Spain. In November 1994, six months after his election as president, Mandela formally proposed that South Africa should be the venue for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.

'However, British Prime Minister, John Major, flatly rejected the idea saying the British government did not have confidence in foreign courts. A further three years elapsed until Mandela's offer was repeated to Major's successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997. Later the same year, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Edinburgh in October 1997, Mandela warned: "No one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge." A compromise solution was then agreed for a trial to be held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, governed by Scottish law, and Mandela began negotiations with Gaddafi for the handover of the two accused (Megrahi and Fhimah) in April 1999.

‘At the end of their nine-month trial, the verdict was announced on 31 January 2001. Fhimah was acquitted but Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in a Scottish jail. Megrahi's initial appeal was turned down in March 2002, and former president Mandela went to visit him in Barlinnie prison on 10 June 2002. "Megrahi is all alone", Mandela told a packed press conference in the prison's visitors room. "He has nobody he can talk to. It is psychological persecution that a man must stay for the length of his long sentence all alone. It would be fair if he were transferred to a Muslim country, and there are Muslim countries which are trusted by the West. It will make it easier for his family to visit him if he is in a place like the kingdom of Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt."’

Sunday, 30 August 2009  Nelson Mandela played a central role in facilitating the handover of Megrahi to the United Nations so he could stand trial under Scottish law in the Netherlands, and subsequently visited him in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.

His backing [for the compassionate release of Megrahi] emerged in a letter sent by Professor Jakes Gerwel, chairperson of the Mandela Foundation.

He said: "Mr Mandela sincerely appreciates the decision to release Mr al Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

"His interest and involvement continued after the trial after visiting Mr al Megrahi in prison.

"The decision to release him now, and allow him to return to Libya, is one which is therefore in line with his wishes."

Sunday, 14 February 2010  I have no doubt that President Mandela's influence and his interventions at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh in October 1997 were crucial in persuading the recently-elected Labour Government to countenance a "neutral venue" solution to the Lockerbie impasse. Also of crucial importance was the press conference held by the group UK Families-Flight 103 in Edinburgh during the Meeting and the worldwide publicity that it generated.

Friday, 17 June 2011  In November 1994, President Nelson Mandela offered South Africa as a neutral venue for the trial but this was rejected by John Major. A further three years elapsed until Mandela’s offer was repeated to Major’s successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997 and again at the 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh in October 1997. At the latter meeting, Mandela warned that “no one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge” in the Lockerbie case.

Sunday, 24 July 2011  Huge crowds greeted Nelson Mandela as he travelled from South Africa to meet Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

He met the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in 2002 on a diplomatic excursion to see how he was being treated.

The former president of South Africa also discussed a campaign for Megrahi to serve his sentence in a Libyan prison.

Everyone who has met Mandela speaks of his kindness, gentleness and good manners.

His visit to Gaddafi's Cafe, the nickname given to the area of Barlinnie where Megrahi was held, underlined the humanity of the man.

After all, Mandela himself spent 18 of his 27 years in jail on Robben Island after being locked up by the South Africa's apartheid government.

Most of the crowd hoping to meet him were positioned around the reception and the main gates. Everyone on the staff wanted a glimpse of the great man. The wellwishers were rows deep.

But as he passed through the throng, Mandela stopped, looked to the edge of the crowd and spotted a young prison officer right at the back.

He said: "You sir, step down here."

When the officer got to the front, Mandela shook his hand, giving him a moment he would never forget.

Mandela remarked that he, too, knew what it was like to be at the back row and not noticed.

The great leader then went inside to meet Megrahi. [RB: Here is a photograph taken at the time.]

But he declined an offer to visit the cell blocks.

Mandela had seen enough to last a lifetime.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012  I [Dr John Cameron] first became involved in the Lockerbie case when Nelson Mandela asked the Church of Scotland to support his efforts to have Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's conviction overturned. 

As an experienced lawyer, Mandela studied the transcripts and decided there had been a miscarriage of justice, pointing especially to serious problems with the forensic evidence. I was the only research physicist among the clergy and was the obvious person to review the evidence to produce a technical report which might be understood by the Kirk.

Scientists always select the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions to eliminate complicated constructions and keep theories grounded in the laws of science. This is 'Occam's razor' and from the outset the theory that the bomb entered the system in Malta as unaccompanied baggage and rattled around Europe seemed quite mad. I contacted everyone I knew in aviation and they all were of the opinion it was placed on board at the notoriously insecure Heathrow and that the trigger had to be barometric.  

[And while listening to or reading the tributes to Mandela from members of the UK government and Tory politicians, just bear this in mind.]


  1. Mandalas call for a fair trial of the Libyan suspects was endearingly naive, but it illustrates his influence that one took place.

    Naive, because inevitably it would be a show trial, because finding them not guilty would have put the US/UK in the dock for imposing sanctions on Libya.

    Instead a more practical approach would have been for South Africa/UN to host the public enquiry the UK government had refused to hold.

    Maybe this was being discussed and is the reason the US/UK opted for the ‘lesser evil’ of a show trial!

    That said the trial did expose for those minded to care that the official line was a lie.

    And the resources applied including the destruction of Libya, shows to what lengths the State will go to perpetuate a cover-up.

  2. I note BBC Scotland yesterday and today referencing Mandela's role in facilitating the Lockerbie trial, without making any mention of the fact that Mandela was supportive of Megrahi and did not believe him to be guilty.

  3. Professor, I can't get that photo you say you've linked to - Facebook isn't prepared to show it to me. If it's the photo I think it is, the world needs to see it. Can you post it somewhere accessible?

  4. Rplfe, it's photo of Mandela and Megrahi in Barlinnie, from Mohammed al-Megrahi's Facebook page. I don't think it's before been published. If you can't access it from the link I provided, I think that's probably it. I certainly don't know how to make it more generally accessible. I've tried a few things, but none of them work.

  5. I thought it was that picture. The world needs to see that picture. I've got a printed copy, in John Ashton's book, but I'm having computer trouble at the moment so I can't scan it.

    Can you simply save it as a jpg yourself, and email it to me?

  6. That's one of the things I've tried, Rolfe. It didn't work, probably because of my IT incompetence. I don't now have time to fiddle around -- I've got hungry and thirsty customers to see to.

  7. My home computer is currently in intensive care. If I appear to have vanished from the internet, that's why guys. Do not send search parties, normal service will doubtless be resumed in due course.

    Prof, if you can see it on your screen, you can save it. Maximise the picture on the screen as much as you can, by maximising the window and using a view or zoom option to get the picture as large as you can. Then press Print Screen - this usually requires pressing Control or Alt at the same time. That copies the screen image to the clipboard.

    Then open your chosen image editing software and paste the clipboard into a new document. Then crop the picture to its original dimensions. Save with a filename of your choice. Simples.

  8. Everybody knows "Errare humanum est" but the second half "- sed perseverare diabolicum" ("- but to persevere is devilish") is at times forgotten.

    Never admitting you were wrong seems to be strongly associated with political success, not the least in our part of the world. At times you could think we are led by superhumans who never make mistakes.

    Imagine a Zeist-judge one day saying "We did our best and delivered our honest opinion. As matters stand today, however, I think the verdict was wrong."

    Just as unthinkable as imagining that any of the sorry bunch would ever go into a discussion about the evidence in the case.

    Mandela was not beyond criticism, of course.
    In a country ravaged by AIDS, he was slow to act as president.

    After he retired in '97, he could have swept the issue under the carpet.

    In fact, his unworthy follower MBeki would have given him the perfect excuse, as MBeki denied HIV being the problem, and invited totally discredited denialist-scientists to help him solve the problem.

    HIV-preventive medicine was denied patients, rape-victims, and pregnant women. We are talking about at least tens of thousands of easily preventable deaths.

    Mandela did not see it as his role to interfere with the policy of his successor.

    But this was the exception.

    The 80+ year old man took action, and openly and strongly used his name and influence to make ANC change its deadly course, which more than anything else brought him ad odds with MBeki.

    Like in so many other countries, dying from AIDS was something embarrassing, dirty. Often everything was done to hide the real reason by claiming other diseases as the cause.

    But when his son Makgatho died from AIDS in 2005, Mandela told his country the truth.

    Mandela deserves eternal praise for his actions in that decade.

    One more great gift from him to his people.