TOWN leaders have paid tribute to South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela who died last night at the age of 95.
Mr Mandela died at home surrounded by family at his home in Johannesburg, the current President, Jacob Zuma confirmed, adding that the world had “lost its greatest son”.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s ceremonial mayor, Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher and town MP Iain Wright joined in global tributes, hailing Mr Mandela as “inspirational” and one of the world’s greatest statesmen.
Coun Akers-Belcher told how he met the anti-Apartheid hero during a Labour Party conference in Brighton in the early 2000s.
The councillor, who was a national officer for Labour Students at the time, said: “It was absolutely amazing – you could feel his presence in the room before you knew he was in the room, it was a magnificent feeling.”
He said he remembers watching Mandela’s walk of freedom, after serving 27 years in prison for conspiracy to help other countries invade South Africa, adding: “You would see the stories of apartheid and it’s quite moving to think this happened in my lifetime.”
Coun Akers-Belcher got to shake Mr Mandela’s hand and said it was “a humbling experience”.
“I was quite saddened by his death,” he added.
“But it’s also an opportunity to reflect on an iconic life of a statesman who has changed lives not only in his own country but also inspired people, certainly he has inspired me.
“This person is going to be forever with us in his achievements and the history of the world.”
Mr Wright said: “Nelson Mandela was of huge inspiration and moral stature.
“He was the greatest statesman of my lifetime.
“It’s difficult to think of another single global figure in the last few decades who has changed the world for the good with his moral force like Nelson Mandela.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mr Mandela, who will receive a state funeral with flags flown at half-mast, had campaigned against white-only rule.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, but was released in 1990 as South Africa began to move away from strict racial segregation.