Accompanied by his partner, Graca Machel, Mr Mandela, 78, received a rapturous reception from a crowd of about 2,000 when he arrived at Oxford Town Hall.
He said: "Naturally, we have looked forward to this day very eagerly because of the significance of Oxford, not only for the British people, but in the world. It is a centre of excellence and we are happy to be associated with it."
Thanking the university Chancellor, Dr Peter North, for his welcome, Mr Mandela said South Africa was indebted to the city and its colleges for their "generous and practical solidarity" in the fight against apartheid. He said many exiled South African freedom campaigners had found the doors of universities such as Oxford open to them, allowing them educational opportunities not possible in their homeland.
"Democratic South Africa has drawn great benefit from its relationship with Oxford and we are only at the beginning of our association," he said.
After the ceremony, Mr Mandela and Mrs Machel emerged from the town hall and delighted the waiting crowds with a walkabout, shaking hands with dozens of well-wishers before being driven off in his limousine to speak at the Bodleian Library.Reuse content