Barbara Brook remembers an “ordinary man” who held her hand and asked her to tell the people of her hometown how beautiful South Africa is and how friendly the people are.
There are no pictures of the moment when Barbara, of Poulton, met Nelson Mandela, father of modern South Africa, but it’s imprinted on her heart and soul.
Barbara, now 78, met Mr Mandela in 1999. The Girls Friendly Society, now known as the GFS, held its international conference in South Africa. Barbara, a member of the GFS since the age of seven, was a delegate. She helps run the Blackpool branch to this day.
The society inspires girls to overcome challenges and break down barriers. Aims resonated with Mr Mandela who invited delegates to his home.
The estate was under armed guard. Handbags searched, no cameras allowed. Barbara was told Mr Mandela, not just the first black president but the first democratically elected president of South Africa, a role from which he stepped down that very year, had a sensitivity to light, legacy of incarceration for 27 year, 18 of them of them on the notorious Robben Island.
It broke his health but never his spirit.
Barbara remembers a tall, humble man, in “gaily coloured shirt”, who shook her hand, then held it, and asked where she was from, whether she was enjoying his wonderful country.
“He came across as an ordinary man, not on a pedestal. I shall never forget his smile, his talk of forgiveness, and a sense of peace and calm.”
Mr Mandela’s role in ending apartheid cannot be overstated. He made South Africa a better place without the blood bath of Zimbabwe or Angola.
He had rejected offers of freedom with strings attached. Only a free man can negotiate, he said. The lobby to free Mandela was fought on British soil too, campaigners courting our own political conference circuit. High profile visitors included Bishop Abel Muzarewa, the first black prime minister of the short-lived nation known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The North West was a hotbed of anti-apartheid.
Seven years later Mr Mandela was free, released by President FW de Klerk on February 11, 1990. Mr Mandela was elected president in 1994, de Klerk his deputy, but knew better than to stand for a second term, stepping aside to become an elder statesmen, called upon by other nations to help broker deals, or act as a mediator.
Mr Mandela, 95, died as VIPs, including his two youngest daughters, attended the London premiere of Lancashire director Justin Chadwick’s biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which stars Idris Elba as the iconic African leader.
The former firebrand revolutionary lawyer inspired others irrespective of colour, creed, culture. He walks into the history books to stand aside Lincoln, Washington, Churchill, Gandhi, Gorbachev, Luther King, Nyerere and more.
Men of true greatness, defined by achievements against seemingly insurmountable odds, but with grace in triumph and defeat, acceptance of their own and other people’s failings.
Mr Mandela was held in such respect he was known by his Xhosa clan name of Tata or Madiba meaning Father, father of the nation.
MY MANDELA MEMORIES
Lillian Mbabazi - Ugandan artist, Blackpool’s TramShed Theatre Co
“For me, Madiba is everything. Father, grandfather, human yet super human. He was so open to the world. At school we spent the whole day singing about him. He was a person to look up to, emulate. Words cannot express how I feel. He IS Africa, all the struggle, the greatness, the joy and the light and the future. He showed us, the world, the way forward. In Uganda we are moving forward.”
Gordon Marsden - Historian and Blackpool South MP
“Nelson Mandela was one of the towering positive individuals of the 20th century. Not simply for liberating his country and preserving post-apartheid South Africa from chaos and bloodbath but for the model of political leadership he left for all times and places.”
Councillor Simon Blackburn - Leader of Blackpool Council
“Mandela was an inspiration to me, to millions. His spirit and wisdom will live in our hearts and minds for time immemorial – alongside other giants in the struggle against oppression. May he rest in peace.”
Professor Cary Cooper – Lancaster University
“Many spout ideals but Mandela gave up his personal liberty and health for what he believed in. He should have been a dead man walking – instead he walked into history. Mandela was brave beyond words”