Mandela and Graca Machel at the pre-wedding dinner of the Prince of Asturias. EFE
Nelson Mandela visited Spain on five occasions, one of them to collect the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ award for international cooperation.
In a speech made when he came to collect the Príncipe de Asturias award in 1992, Nelson Mandela revealed the great esteem he had for Spain.
“Spain is capable of uniting the new and the old and of forging a single identity from the richness, culture and civilisation of its diverse regions”. The ex president of South Africa, who died last week, came to Spain five times and each time his fondness for the country and the King - with whom he shared an award - was clear. He and Juan Carlos were together awarded the Simón Bolívar prize, given by Unesco and Venezuela to recognize the struggle for independence, in 1983.
Mandela’s first visit to Spain, as the leader of the ANC, came in 1991 just after he had been released from a 27 year stay in prison.
The great regard the Spanish authorities held him in was evident during his four day stay. Mandela met King Juan Carlos, the then prime minister Felipe González and was made an honorary doctor by Madrid University.
In 1992 Mandela returned to Spain to collect his ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ award for international cooperation, given jointly with the then president of South Africa, Frederick de Klerk to honour his “contribution to the understanding and cooperation of the diverse races and cultures of the international community”.
During his presidency Nelson Mandela did not come to Spain although the King and Queen went in turn to South Africa where they were honoured with the country’s highest distinction, the Grand Cross of the Order of Good Hope.
Mandela’s last visit to Spain was in 2004 for the wedding of the heir to the throne, Prince Felipe, to Letizia Ortiz. He was already in fragile health and in 2010 his last official act was to attend the football World Cup final in South Africa which was won by Spain.
King Juan Carlos issued a statement following the death on December 5th of Nelson Mandela in which he remembered “the enormous personal sacrifice, truly heroic” of the South African leader in facing with fortitude his “unjust” imprisonment.
The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, also paid tribute to the South African freedom fighter and leader as a example of human dignity, saying “it is important to emphasize that he made harmony the strong point of his presidency. From that we have everything to learn”.