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Nelson Mandela celebrated at Westminster Hall

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  • by DAVID HUGHES
 

The extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela has been celebrated in words and music in parliament’s Westminster Hall.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said the historic venue, where South Africa’s first black president addressed MPs and peers in 1996, was a “distinctly special setting to commemorate and celebrate a distinctly special man”.

Parliamentarians and veterans of the struggle against apartheid gathered to reflect on the life of Mr Mandela, who died last week aged 95.

Mr Bercow said: “His personal story encapsulates the political story of a century.

“He was a man who became a mission and then a message.

“A giant, a hero, a friend, and we are honoured this afternoon to honour him.”

Singer Joan Armatrading, who met Mr Mandela a number of times, performed The Messenger, a tribute she sang for him in 2001 and which prompted him to rise to his feet to dance.

The South African Cultural Choir provided a musical reminder of Mr Mandela’s homeland as they sang on the steps where he had addressed his audience in 1996.

Writer Dean Atta read a poem he had composed in honour of Mr Mandela and former Coronation Street actress Pamela Nomvete read from 491 Days by Mr Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Mr Mandela’s life showed that “with sheer will, determination and courage, any evil can be overcome”.

He went on: “That is why, as a man of towering moral stature and the ultimate example of transformational leadership, he should always be a personal inspiration for people everywhere, and we will all learn from his example for generations to come.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Today is a day to remember the universal values for which Nelson Mandela stood: the equality of all people, whatever their colour or creed, the value of tolerance and respect and the belief that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.

“Nelson Mandela said, ‘I am not a saint, I am a sinner who keeps on trying’. He inspires us all to keep on trying for noble ideas, for higher purposes and for a world free from injustice.”

Adelaide Joseph, a friend of Mr Mandela who took him food during his time in prison, said: “The world has lost a hero. South Africa has lost its greatest leader, we have lost a great friend. But none of us should lose hope.”

Labour peer Lord Joffe, who represented Mr Mandela in court in 1963, recalled the spirit shown by the then young leader. He told how, when asked to enter a plea to charges of sabotage, Mr Mandela had said: “The government should be in the dock, not me. I plead not guilty.”

But he also spoke of Mr Mandela’s “lovely smile” and “mischievous sense of humour”.

Earlier, Labour MP Andy McDonald suggested a room in the Palace of Westminster should be named after Mr Mandela.

While numerous venues in the palace are named after famous British politicians – including the Churchill dining rooms – none is named after a foreign leader.

Mr McDonald said one option was to name one of the small debating chambers next to Westminster Hall after Mr Mandela.

In a question to Commons Leader Andrew Lansley in the chamber, he said: “This week we heard some marvellous tributes paid to Nelson Mandela.

“I was wondering next week, if possible, you could look in to the possibility, along with this House’s relevant authorities, about possible dedicating a room in this place to the memory of the great man.”

Mr Lansley told him: “If you wish to put a proposal forward, I am sure it will be considered.”

Outside the chamber, Mr McDonald said: “We would have to find somewhere appropriate. I will now take it forward and make a formal proposal.”

Thousands file past as Madiba lies in state

DROVES of mourners filed past the body of Nelson Mandela for a second day yesterday as it lay in state in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria.

Mr Mandela’s coffin was in the amphitheatre at the Union Buildings, the seat of government where he was inaugurated as the country’s first black and democratically elected president in 1994.

Some mourners sobbed after passing the coffin and had to be helped by security officials. Others accepted the grief of losing their revered leader.

“Now that I’ve seen his face, I think I’m OK now,” Freda Mamemena said. “I see that the old man has rested at long last. He’s at peace.”

Mourner Siya Mionzi was troubled at seeing Mr Mandela’s body after being used to old media images of his smiling face and robust frame.

“He was lifeless and it wasn’t the Madiba that we all knew,” Ms Mionzi said, referring to Mr Mandela by his clan name.

Thousands of people lined up at staging areas to catch buses to the viewing site, but many were not able to see the casket.

Yesterday afternoon, the government announced that park-and-ride centres had been closed for the day after reaching full capacity. The government said between 12,000 and 14,000 paid their final respects on Wednesday, the first day of viewing.

A lack of drinking water caused several people to pass out on Wednesday, and yesterday social media reports emerged saying some mourners had taken photographs of Mr Mandela’s body, defying the wishes of his family and the government.

An official statement urged people to delete any pictures of Mr Mandela’s remains. It also said there were no plans to release an official photograph of him lying in state.

The official memorial service was held at the FNB Stadium, in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, on Tuesday.

It was attended by scores of current and former heads of state and government.

Today is the final day of viewing.

Tomorrow, Mr Mandela’s body will be flown to the village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, where he spent his childhood. He will be buried there on Sunday.

The Prince of Wales will formally represent the Queen at Mr Mandela’s funeral.

 

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