‘So sorry Mandela’s former cellmate has died … he stayed with our dad in Maryhill’

By Ian Marland at

Tributes have been paid in Glasgow to a South African trade unionist who has died aged 90.

Archie Sibeko – or Zola Zembe as he was known to his friends here – was a contemporary of Nelson Mandela’s and a staunch trade unionist.

Tweeting news of his death, Paul Climie remembered the activist from when he stayed with his dad in Maryhill in the 70s and 80s.

Zola Zembe and Mandela

Great man: Nelson Mandela inspired the end of apartheid

Paul tweeted: “So sorry to hear this. Zola (as we knew him) was a lovely, lovely man and often (stayed) at our flat in Maryhill whilst he was in exile.

“Johnny Walker will always be ‘Walking Johnny’ to me – he told us he knew the character as that in South Africa, when he saw an advert on Maryhill Rd.”

Paul’s quote was carried in a post initially tweeted by his brother Peter.

Sibeko shared a cell with Nelson Mandela as the two activists awaited trial at the hands of the apartheid regime.

Paul Climie:

“So sorry to hear this. Zola (as we knew him) was a lovely, lovely man and often (stayed) at our flat in Maryhill whilst he was in exile.

“Johnny Walker will always be ‘Walking Johnny’ to me – he told us he knew the character as that in South Africa, when he saw an advert on Maryhill Rd.”

Mandela would later serve 27 years in prison, many of them on Robben Island for his opposition to the state.

Sibeko was acquitted at his trial but exiled. He spent much of his later life in the UK.

It was during the 70s and 80s, the activist visited Scotland where he spoke to trade union members about the anti-apartheid movement.

It was then that he would stay at the Climie’s family home in Maryhill.

Tribute: Zola’s Maryhill links remembered

Paul told Glasgow West End Today: “My dad Brian Climie was a trade unionist, and very active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

“When Zola was doing speaking tours around trade union organisations in Scotland he would often stay with us.

“My brother and me were young, but he had great stories and was a really delightful man.

“His stories varied from why he hated rhinos, to tales of police beatings.

Mandela and Zola Zembe

Friends: Zola Zembe (Archie Sibeko) with (left to right) Brian Climie, Linda Climie and Peter Climie in 2014. Photo credit: Peter Climie

“He used to chuckle when there was a big Johnny Walker poster across the road from us in Maryhill.

“Said it made him feel like he was back in South Africa seeing “Walking Johnny” as he called the character from the bottle.”

Peter had tweeted: “Sad news, but a joy to know Zola Zembe (Archie Sibeko) who died aged 90.

“Shared a cell with Mandela, then exiled from South Africa, he stayed with us in Maryhill in the 70s when my dad in Anti Aparthied, took him to speak to trade union members in Scotland”

Scotland and Glasgow in particular led the world in its opposition to apartheid.

The city famously gave Mandela the freedom of the city before anywhere else.

Sibeko married a academic he met in Zambia. In recent years the couple lived in Tyneside, England.