Valley community joins in the tributes to Mandela

Former South African President Nelson Mandela. PA
Former South African President Nelson Mandela. PA

The upper Calder Valley has joined in the tributes to former South African president Nelson Mandela following his death last week.

Mr Mandela, an inspirational figure who led the struggle against apartheid and went on to become the country’s first black president, passed away on December 5 aged 95.

Anne Mountfort, of Todmorden, who was born and raised in the Eastern Cape during the apartheid era, said it was “extremely emotional” watching the news coverage last week.

She said he is a shining example of forgiveness to which people can aspire.

“He made so many South Africans see things so differently,” she said. “He changed people’s attitudes and convinced them to leave things behind and look forward.

“Forgiving everything, he then led us away from the blood bath that we had felt was inevitable to end apartheid.

“Personally I think the only person you can compare him to is Gandhi. They were both tremendous leaders in times of change and I can’t think of anybody else who had that world stature.”

Anne studied at the same university where Mr Mandela was awarded his degree.

Although she left South Africa in 1974 she has kept a close eye on events back home.

One particular day stands out - February 11, 1990, when he was freed after 27 years in prison.

“Nobody who was aware at the time can forget the miracle of his release on that February day,” Anne said.

“Out of the world for so long, he recoiled from a furry microphone shoved in his face.

“The whole thing was unbelievably emotional as I watched it at home in Todmorden.”

She also remembers watching the iconic moment in 1995 when Mr Mandela wore the famous Springbok jersey to present the Rugby Union World Cup to the victorious South African captain Francois Pienaar.

“To see Pienaar, an archetypal Afrikaans sportsman, feel so moved by Mandela was amazing,” she said.

Coverage of the situation in South Africa led Calder ward councillor Nader Fekri to join the anti-apartheid movement.

Coun Fekri, of Hebden Bridge, said: “For me Nelson Mandela was a symbol of what one person can be and do.

“Though the body may be caged, the voice can sing, yearning to be free.

“I was lucky enough to see him in the flesh two months after his release in 1990, at a concert at Wembley.

“It was then that he became more than an icon for me.

“I saw him as a man, with all frailties and weaknesses that beset each and every one of us, and somehow managing to rise above it all to push for peace and reconciliation, without bitterness or rancour.”

Tens of thousands of people, including many famous faces from around the world, attended a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.