Mandela Hall

I went back to the University of Sussex this afternoon for an introductory session for people considering postgraduate studies there. It was where I spent my undergraduate years, and almost every inch of the campus is rich with memories of people I knew back then, and things they did (and said) in those particular parts of the campus.

Except that the place has (partially) changed since I left in 1983: you now move from one utterly familiar location into one that's totally new, and the effect is quite disorientating. (Those of you who know the place will be familiar with the 'progression of spaces' as you walk up the main axis of the 'Arts' side of Basil Spence's modernist masterpiece, giving the  place - with or without the 'amendments' to his 'grand design' that have taken place in the past 34 years - a kind of 'dream-like' quality.)

Mandela Hall was the main focus of student union activity in my time (and maybe still is): when I re-discovered it today it lay quite deserted, possibly awaiting exams to take place in there.

Now here's something strange: during all of my undergraduate years, few if any of the 'radicals' in the University of Sussex Student Union seemed to know just who this space was named for. Many a time I saw it named as 'Mandella' Hall on posters advertising concerts or meetings there. 'Nelson Mandela' simply wasn't a 'household' name back then, even in the undoubtedly radical political milieu of the Union. Somebody arranged the screening of some 'historic' black & white films of the University in its 'early' days to mark its 20th anniversary in 1981: somebody there made a comment about an early historic link between the University and the ANC, and mentioned Nelson Mandela by name, but as I recall even this attracted little or no comment at the time, just a few nods by those 'in the know'.

Now, you try telling all that to the youngsters here today, and they simply don't believe you...

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