Universiteit Leiden

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Centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth

On 18 July 2018 former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela would have been 100 years old. In 1999 the anti-apartheid activist received an honorary doctorate from Leiden University. His response was modest: 'This is not a personal achievement. It is a tribute to all those who were involved in the resistance, put in prison or forced into exile.'

Nelson Mandela's honorary doctorate

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Contrast

If you watch the television footage of that sunny day on 12 March 1999 you will notice quite a contrast. As he arrives at the Pieterskerk in Leiden, Mandela seems extremely happy and relaxed. Smiling, he waves at the cheering crowds behind the barriers. Once inside and seated next to Queen Beatrix, however, he receives his honorary doctorate with great solemnity. The then 80-year-old Mandela was awarded the title during his two-day state visit to the Netherlands. Leiden University rarely awards an honorary doctorate to non-academics, but makes an exception for individuals who have made an extraordinary contribution to upholding the University motto: Praesidium Libertatis, Bastion of Freedom.

Read the account of the conferral of the Honorary Doctorate on Nelson Mandela

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