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Tribute to Nelson Mandela
Peter Hain MP – whose family fled South Africa because of its support for Nelson Mandela – has led tributes to the country’s former president, who has died age 95.
The Neath MP described him as a “friend and hero” and the “icon of all icons”.
Mr Mandela had been receiving intense home-based medical care for a lung infection after three months in hospital.
In a statement on South African national TV, South African president Jacob Zuma said Mr Mandela had “departed” and was at peace.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” Mr Zuma said.
Following the news, Mr Hain led tributes to the Noble peace prize winner.
Mr Hain said there had long been a bond between Wales and the man known to friends as “Madiba”.
He cited the anti-apartheid demonstrations against the then all-white Springboks rugby team’s game in Swansea in 1969.
The former Welsh Secretary also fondly recalled Mr Mandela’s first and only visit to Wales in 1998, when he was awarded the Freedom of Cardiff.
He said: “Cardiff that day experienced a vintage Mandela performance.
“He ignored my guiding arm on his elbow and stopped at a group of primary school children sparkling in Welsh national dress.
“As the queue of VIPs waited, sweating in the unusually hot weather, he began conducting the children to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
“I later learned that it was the absence of his children that he missed most in all his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island.”
Mr Hain, whose family’s associations with the anti-Apartheid movement saw them blacklisted by the South African authorities in the 1960s, also described Mr Mandela as “a friend and a hero”.
Recalling Mr Mandela’s 2000 visit to the Labour Party conference in Brighton, he said: “As I escorted him inside, he asked his usual question: ‘How’s the family?’.
“On hearing my mother was in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital with a fractured femur, he stopped immediately and said that he must speak to her.
“Out came my mobile and, when she answered from her hospital ward, she was greeted with: ‘Hullo. Nelson Mandela here, do you remember me?’
“That’s what made him so extraordinary – he remained above all a people’s person which is highly unusual amongst global leaders or celebrities of his stature.”