Last night we heard of the passing of Nelson Mandela. It was no great surprise because he had been ill for so long but nevertheless it was sad news.
We all know his history and background so I don’t intend to make any comment on his life or his achievements.
I do, however, have two personal memories involving Nelson Mandela.
I remember so very clearly the day he was released from Victor Verster prison. 11 February 1990. I was in hospital awaiting the birth of my daughter and watched coverage of his release on television. It was a day to remember. My daughter was born the next morning. Another day to remember!
I consider myself very fortunate enough to have seen Nelson Mandela when he came to Leeds in April 2001 to be made freeman of the City and to officially open Millennium Square. It was such a significant event that the Manager of the charity I worked for at the time closed the office so we could witness this historical occasion. There were thousands and thousands of us waiting in Millennium Square for him to arrive. There was slight confusion about when he was actually going to arrive and we seemed to be waiting for ages. Jon Snow did a brilliant job trying to keep the crowd both informed and amused. We were entertained by children from a local school and the wonderful Ladysmith Black Mamboza. Then suddenly he appeared on stage. The great man himself with a beaming smile. There was wild applause and a rising sense of excitement and expectation. On his arrival, the choir sang Nikosi Sikelel, the South African national anthem. It was very moving and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We didn’t even mind when he referred to Liverpool even though he was in Leeds! Although in his 80s, he looked well if a little frail.
I am so glad that I was able to be there on that day and to witness that beaming smile!
RIP Nelson Mandela