WORLD leaders and members of the public are mourning former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday, aged 95.
During his lifetime Mandela battled apartheid and discrimination, was imprisoned for 27 years and then released in 1990.
He went on to represent his country, becoming a source of inspiration around the globe. He also visited Wales to pay tribute to Welsh anti-apartheid activists, even praising the nation’s rugby union.
Residents of the region and dignitaries have recalled the joy of meeting Mandela.
Lord Barry Jones, who served as Alyn and Deeside MP and became a life peer, met Mandela during his time in the shadow cabinet.
He told the Leader: “I can say I awaited him with baited breath. When I shook his hand I felt the firmest of grips. His eyes looked directly into yours. They were eyes that compelled. You would only tell the truth to them.
“They were intent on being kind, but one knew immediately he was a commanding personality. He was a man of authority but he radiated friendship.”
Amid the respect and awe, Mandela and Lord Jones shared a moment of levity.
Lord Jones said: “I told him my brief was Wales. Laughingly, he said he knew about Wales. I think it was the rugby that caught his attention.”
Welsh football, too, caught the attention of Mandela. In 1994, ex-Wrexham FC player Lee Jones met Mandela during a tour to South Africa with Liverpool FC.
Jones, who lives in Hawarden and is now business development manager at The Racecourse Community Foundation, met Mandela twice – once in a changing room in Cape Town before a friendly with Aston Villa and the other time on the pitch at Ellis Park where he shook hands before a game against South African side Kaiser Chiefs.
He said: “When I met Mandela, he shook my hand and leant over and said ‘you must be the baby of the team’.
“I was so pleased and in awe to meet a man of his stature and it is something I will never forget. When he walked out at Ellis Park I have never heard such a noise in my life. There were 40,000 or so fans in the stadium cheering for Mandela, it was a great privilege to have been able to experience that. He was a fantastic and friendly man who was very approachable.”
Delyn MP David Hanson called Mandela “an inspiration”.
He said: “As a student in the mid 1970s it was impossible not to be moved to action by the actions of the apartheid government in South Africa. Students in South Africa just like me were not just denied rights to live as equals but were shot and killed on the streets.
“Messages from Mandela sneaked out of prison asked the world to boycott the regime – we campaigned here to do just that. It’s hard to believe Mandela had then spent 13 years in jail and we would not even know what he looked like until his release 14 years later.”
Mr Hanson described the moment spent with Mandela at the House of Commons “one of the proudest moments” of his life.
He said: “What a joy it was to be able to be with Mandela in 1996 when, as president of a free South Africa, he spoke to parliament.
“He made us all feel that, however small, it was the grain of sand we contributed that helped change South Africa peacefully. He was an amazing man.”
Keith Bryan, former Offa community councillor, was in South Africa on the day Mandela was elected. In 1994, Mr Bryan, who lives in Wrexham, was an international observer ensuring the South African election system was run fairly and freely.
He said: “The atmosphere on that day was electric. There was anticipation that the ANC [Mandela’s party] would win, but when they did there was great jubilation on the streets.
“There was a lot of expectation things would change – as they already had – when he came to power. He is one of only a few politicians who has managed to fulfil that level of expectation. I never met him, but obviously he was a world class leader, and it was a privilege to play a small role in the changes that took place in South Africa.”
Mr Bryan has since donated a collection of articles and information written during that turbulent but hopeful time and donated it to the University of Cape Town.