In June 1998 the leaders of the European Union gathered for a summit in Cardiff, where they took the opportunity to salute Nelson Mandela, who was in his final year as President of South Africa.
It was his only visit to Wales and he accepted the Freedom of Cardiff, giving a speech that praised the Welsh contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle.
He displayed his customary magnanimity, acknowledging that rugby did finally cut its links with white-ruled South Africa rather than mentioning the years of protest before it did so. Nevertheless, the only person he thanked by name was Bert Pierce, the former leader of the Welsh Communist Party.
When the call for the international isolation of apartheid went out to the world, the people of Wales responded magnificently. The knowledge that local authorities all over Wales were banning apartheid products from canteens and schools; and that the universities, the Welsh Rugby Union, and the choirs had cut their links, was a great inspiration to us in our struggle. So too was the contribution of organised Welsh workers. Action on such a scale could only flow from strong support by ordinary Welsh people on the ground.
So we knew that the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement spoke for a people who cared for our freedom as their own. It is normally invidious to single out individuals. But ... there is a certain satisfaction in acknowledging, if you so permit me, that there is one amongst us who is even older than I am and who has been a campaigner for democracy in South Africa since his youth. May the youth of today, when they have reached the age of 84 like Bert Pierce, also be able look back on a lifetime of struggle for justice.
– Nelson Mandela, speaking at Cardiff Castle, 16 June 1998
In accepting your freedom, so graciously bestowed, I would like you to accept our heartfelt thanks on behalf of the people of South Africa for your solidarity. Democracy has brought new and even greater challenges. In the four years of our freedom we have laid the foundation for a better life for all. But eradicating the legacy of apartheid and rebuilding our region will take many years. Brief as our visit to Wales must be, I will be able to tell my people that in the people of Wales we have friends indeed, ready to join hands with us in building a better life for all.