It felt like shaking the hand of an angel
Meeting Mandela still treasured experienceMICHELLE DUFF
Being kissed on the cheek by Nelson Mandela is unforgettable.
For a group of Wellington East Girls' College girls, it remains one of their most treasured memories.
Noema Leota and Tessa Auelua, nee Faletolu, were members of the college choir, Undivided, which sang for the South African president during his visit to New Zealand in 1995.
"I will always remember it, it's not one of those experiences you can forget," Ms Leota said. "We got a kiss on each cheek, and we were like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm not going to wash my face.'
"You hear all these amazing things about people like that - it's one thing talking about him, but meeting him in person was incredible."
The choir sang the South African national anthem Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika at the 125th dinner of the parliamentary press gallery.
An article in The Dominion said Mandela appeared to thoroughly enjoy the singing, and "even hardbitten journalists were left with tears in their eyes".
After the young women sang, Mandela went up to each of them and the choir's directors, shook their hands and gave them all a kiss on both cheeks.
"We hadn't been briefed on what the etiquette would be for meeting him, because we never in a million years thought we were going to," Mrs Auelua said.
"He was so angelic, you almost felt like he was an angel who was shaking your hand."
The teenagers had been so nervous and in awe they could barely talk.
"He said to my friend, 'How are you?' and she just said, 'I'm Samoan,' and we all laughed. Even he had a smile on his face."
The performance beat singing for Prince Charles the year before, Ms Leota said.
"It was so surreal, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh is this really happening?' We just talked about it for weeks afterwards.
"It's hard to think that someone like that is gone, because he's changed so many lives."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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