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Nelson Mandela: remembering an inspiration
9:49am Saturday 7th December 2013 in News
HE will be remembered as a man who fought for equality, the former South African leader who was imprisoned for 27 years.
The anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician passed away aged 95 on Thursday evening.
His first state visit to the UK in 1996 was hailed by South African exiles living in Sussex as “so much more than just an exercise in political or economic diplomacy – it is a symbol of what has been achieved in a very short time”.
Then in 2000 Mandela travelled to Brighton, where he received the loudest ovation at the Labour Party Conference.
Kimberly Middleton and Ben James report.
Civil rights campaigner Nelson Mandela’s popularity grew during his 27 years of incarceration, many spent at Robben Island Prison, off of Cape Town.
While behind bars, he became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength.
Many persecuted South African exiles sought refuge in Sussex during three decades of racial segregation.
The county became home to many of Mandela’s future aides, with refugees converging around Sussex University’s famous African and Asian studies centre.
When Mandela was released in 1990, nine people returned to South Africa from Sussex to take up government positions in the African National Congress (ANC) party, including the president’s heir apparent, Thabo Mbeki, and his deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad.
In 1995 Mr Mbeki, then South Africa’s executive deputy president, returned to Sussex to receive an honorary Doctorate of Laws.
He told the audience about the day in 1964 when the university emptied as students marched in London to support Nelson Mandela, imprisoned at the time, and other persecuted black South Africans.
He added: “Nobody can take away from this university that it helped South Africa to draw back at the brink of what could have been a calamitous orgy of killings.”
Mr Mbeki and his fellow refugees had escaped to Sussex in the 1960s, starting a trend which continued through the next two decades.
Brighton’s strong ties with the country were reinforced in 1995, when university students and councillors set up a partnership with the South African township of New Brighton, near Port Elizabeth.
Mandela arrives in Brighton
The Sussex forum forged links between schools in both Brightons, as well as organising foreign exchange visits and collections of money and books.
Phulma Nygawa, a Brighton University medical student who helped in the running of the forum, said of Mandela’s momentous visit to the UK in July 1996, when he was given the freedom of London: “Seeing Nelson Mandela in England brings the enormity of it home to me.
“I am going to one of the events being held in his honour and I hope to meet him.”
The then 25-year-old continued: “When Nelson Mandela was released it felt like a dream.
“The speed with which things happened was remarkable. I thought it would be a good 15 years before we would see open elections. I was in Brighton when they happened and there were celebrations here.
“Now I have great hope for the future of South Africa.”
Sam Gurney, the son of Aziz Pahad, followed in his fathers’ foot- steps to study and campaign at Sussex University, where he was the student union leader.
In July 1996, he was by his father’s side for two of the South African delegation’s appointments in London, where he hoped to meet Nelson Mandela for the first time.
He said: “Nelson Mandela’s state visit to England means so much more than just an exercise in political or economic diplomacy.
It is a symbol of what has been achieved in a very short time.
“Six years ago he was in prison. My father could not even return to South Africa. He went back for the first time in 1990, when I was able to go for the first time in my life. It was incredible. I met relative I didn’t even know existed.
Extraordinary “Then came the elections. I remember sitting on Brighton beach with my radio listening to it. When the ANC won, we had our own celebrations at Sussex University. This visit is the icing on the cake. It has captured more interest than any state visit since television started.
“That shows how much it means to people.”
But Mandela’s visit to Brighton in 2000 – to speak on the last day of the Labour Party Conference – was even more emotional.
Peter Hain MP, whose family fled South Africa, recalled Mr Mandela’s visit to Brighton.
He said: “As I escorted him inside, he asked his usual question: ‘How’s the family?’.
Mandela meets pupils in Brighton
“On hearing my mother was in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital with a fractured femur, he stopped immediately and said that he must speak to her. Out came my mobile and, when she answered from her hospital ward, she was greeted with: ‘Hello. Nelson Mandela here, do you remember me?’ “That’s what made him so extraordinary – he remained, above all, a people’s person, which is highly unusual amongst global leaders or celebrities of his stature.”
The then 82-year-old walked on stage at the conference, holding the arm of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, to the largest standing ovation of the event.
Wearing a shiny shirt and dark trousers, he shook the hands of the deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and members of the Brixton Children’s Choir.
Overwhelmed by his welcome and left speechless by the thunderous applause, Mandela simply smiled and waved.
Cabinet members, who until his entrance had been stars of the show, sat back, almost unnoticed, in chairs to the right of the stage.
Mandela joked: “The only reason there are so many people here at the moment is purely out of curiosity. They want to see what a pensioner from the colonies looks like.”
In a speech met with laughter, cheers and thoughtful silence by the adoring audience, Mandela praised the party for supporting the ANC during apartheid and called on the Government to help the world’s poor.
Mandela told members of the audience, who gave their undivided attention: “Britain was in so many respects the second headquarters of our movement in exile.
“Your solidarity helped to make those years in exile bearable and contributed to them not turning out to be wasted years.
“Apartheid was experienced as such a basic onslaught against human dignity that it demeaned all of us. The political parties in the major Western countries had different approaches in their support for the freedom struggle in South Africa.
“This universal abhorrence of apartheid contributed significantly to the ultimate victory of freedom, non-racialism and democracy in our country.”
Mandela paid tribute to the longevity of the political party – which in 2000 celebrated its 100th anniversary, adding: “It is testimony to the resilience of the spirit that continues to believe that the world can be made a better place for us all.”
He broke off from his prepared text to launch an attack on globalisation, warning the concern for the common good was in danger of being lost.
He added: “We would argue the shrinking of the globe, through the advances in communications and information technology, has made it even more incumbent upon us to become once more the keepers of our brothers and sisters wherever in the world.”
But, despite of the scientific, technological and economic advances, he said poverty and social inequality remained features of most of the world’s societies. He told of the scourge of Aids and HIV on South Africa and gave assurances the country had no intentions of becoming a superpower.
Mandela’s appearance at the conference was hailed a ‘stunning coup’ for the party.
But any criticism the party’s publicity machine was exploiting the retired president’s international renown were lost on delegates.
Mr Madela had many visitors while in prison over the 27 years.
One of them was activist and later to become MEP, Janey Buchan.
Her grandson, Andy, 30, is a teacher at Dorothy Stringer School in Brighton.
He said: “She died back in 2012 but would always tell us about her time with Mandela.
“She visited him in prison and then later at a European Union event.
“He had a huge impact on her life and no doubt influenced many of the things she did.
“If she was here today she would be celebrating his life. She would probably be putting on a concert or raising money for his charities.”
ANDY Winter, chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, was born and raised in Cape Town.
He said: “I could see Robben Island from my bedroom window but it wasn’t until I moved to the UK I saw a photograph of him – because they were banned in South Africa at the time.”
Mr Winter was called up to fight in the apartheid army but instead decided to escape to the UK shortly after his 19th birthday.
“He is a massive inspiration to me, he said.
“My experience of living under apartheid is what motivated me to do the work I do now.
“I witnessed some appalling abuses of power and people living in desperate poverty.
“I guess that is part of why I have worked for Brighton Housing Trust for 28 years..
“He is the model of what one should be willing to sacrifice and I feel I have fallen well short of that.”
Boxer Chris Eubank
A Private audience with Nelson Mandela convinced boxer Chris Eubank to make his comeback to the sport in 1996.
Eubank was invited to Mandela’s hotel room at London’s Dorchester Hotel for a 10-minute meeting during his state visit.
The former super-middleweight champion from Hove said: “All the things I wanted to say to him went completely out of my head when he made one statement.
“He said to me: ‘Mister Eubank, I am honoured to meet you’.
“We talked about whether I could go to South Africa to teach youngsters to box and have boxing clinics built in my name, so my word has not gone unheard. It was the highlight of my life.”
Former NUT president Pat Hawkes
Meeting him was ‘amazing’ In May 1993, the former NUT president Pat Hawkes met Mandela to show the union’s support for democratic South Africa with education for all.
The Brighton Labour councillor was among scores of MPs and business people who heard Mandela speak in London during a three-day visit to the UK.
Coun Hawkes, then a teacher at Cradle Hill primary school in Seaford, said: “South Africa has to be non-racist, non- sexist and very democratic. At the moment it is impossible for the children to get to school. I visited the Soweto camps earlier this year and the illiteracy rate is very high. Parents are expected to pay for school but they do not work so their children do not go to school.”
She described the meeting as “an amazing occasion” and said she was very lucky to meet Mandela in person.
She added: “It was a very prestigious gathering and he made a very impressive speech.”
Brighton-based filmmaker David Westhead has been welcomed into the Mandela inner circle in recent years.
Along with two of Mandela’s grandchildren, Kweku and Ndaba, he has spent the past few years creating a film about the great man.
He said: “It’s a very sad day but I will remember him as a humble man from humble beginnings who taught his family to be humble.
“He is absolute proof that any human being can do anything – no matter their background.
“But I also knew him as a family man. He was a granddad who spoke to his grandchildren like any other grandparent.”
He added: “I spent a lot of time with the family in making the film and I took my son Billy over to meet him. He would sit and talk with him. There was one time when Billy, then aged 10, was in their front room playing computer games.
“He came in and sat down with Billy and said that it looked ‘pretty cool’.
“Now whenever I try to get him off Call of Duty or whatever he is playing, he refers back and tells me that ‘Nelson Mandela said it was cool’.”
He added: “I was with Kweku last week and touched based with him on Thursday night.
“I messaged a few of the family and they all replied. They’re like that though.
They’ll all incredible.”
Argus photographer Simon Dack
When Mandela visited the Labour Party conference in 2000, Argus chief photographer Simon Dack was tasked with getting pictures of the great leader.
He said: “We had a tip off that he would be arriving at the Hilton.
“We were warned he was very frail and told to be careful around him.” But when Mr Dack finally met the then 82-year-old, he was somewhat taken by surprise.
“He was absolutely fine, ” he recalled. “He was strong and bounding around waving to people.
“When he got into the conference he was speaking to all the children and singing on stage with Gabrielle. Not quite the fail old man we were led to believe.” As the conference composed itself, Mandela began his speech.
Mr Dack added: “I have never seen so many photographers at a political conference in my life. We were all squashed down at the front – it was an uncomfortable couple of hours.
“I can just remember his voice – it was so powerful.
“He had the audience in the palm of his hand, everyone was gripped.”
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