In 1996, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, statesman and philanthropist, Nelson Mandela, visited the Bank of England while President of South Africa. Our archive collection includes photographs commemorating the occasion.
Mandela had joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. From 1948 he was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies, facing trial for treason as a result. Although Mandela was acquitted in 1961, the ANC had been banned in 1960 and so Mandela felt forced to resort to military tactics, forming a wing of the ANC to resist apartheid by any means called Umkhonto we Sizwe. This led to Mandela’s arrest in 1962 and, although initially sentenced to five years, he was tried again as part of a wider group for plotting to overthrow the government by violence in 1963 where he was sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela’s statement at the 1963 trial gained international recognition for the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela became the most significant black leader in South Africa, and a symbol of resistance. When he was finally released in 1990, Mandela became president of the reinstated ANC in 1991. In 1994, he was elected as the first Black president of South Africa. Mandela continues to be remembered today for never compromising his political position, even when his personal freedom was at stake.
Mandela’s visit to the Bank of England, just six years after his release from prison and two years into his presidency of South Africa, marks a significant intersection between the Bank and Black revolutionary history that can serve as a potent reminder today.
Founded in 1694, the Bank’s history also coincides with Britain’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. At the Bank of England Museum we are currently carrying out research into the Bank’s historic links with transatlantic slavery to address this past.
As part of this work, it is planned that the Museum will reopen in the first half of 2022 with a public exhibition drawing on some of the findings of the research. The research will also enable other Museum content to be updated prior to reopening. The exhibition will, among other things, describe the role of former Governors and Directors who featured in portraits and busts that were removed from display in a private area of the Bank earlier this year.
Update: The museum is now reopened with the exhibition Slavery & the Bank, on until 28 April 2023.
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