Mandela's marae visit made a lasting impact

LIVING LEGENCY: Tukoroirangi Morgan and Mania Hope at the protea tree planted in 1995 by Nelson Mandela at Turangawaewae.
LIVING LEGENCY: Tukoroirangi Morgan and Mania Hope at the protea tree planted in 1995 by Nelson Mandela at Turangawaewae.

He was a man with a peaceful vision that stopped world leaders and changed nations.

But for then-16-year-old Mania Hope she was the only one in the world when Nelson Mandela spoke to her amid the bustle of a state visit to Ngaruawahia.

Mrs Hope, now 33, and a lawyer, performed for Mr Mandela with two others and presented him with a gift when he visited Ngaruawahia's Turangawaewae Marae in November 1995.

"We each had a gift for him and when I went up there were a whole heap of kahui ariki - members of the Maori Royal family - around Nelson Mandela," the Hamilton woman recalls.

"I just remember him having these huge hands, they looked hard and coarse, but they were actually really spongy.

"I remember thinking the whole time, ‘Oh my god, your hands are so spongy and huge'. He held my hand with both of his hands."

After presenting him with a gift and giving him a hongi and kiss, she stood in awe as he embraced her hands in his and spoke to her.

"It was almost like time didn't matter. It didn't matter that this thing was going on around us. There was a mob of people - it was crazy, but it didn't matter."

He asked her questions about herself and what she wanted to do when she grew up.

"I remember him asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said a lawyer. I've done exactly what I told him I was going to do."

Although just 16, Mrs Hope said a copy of Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom was in her home and she was well aware of apartheid. "I've always known who he was so I didn't take it lightly," she said.

"I remember just melting," she said, of meeting him. "I was just so in awe."

She said Mandela resonated with Maori.

"We have the likes of Rua Kenana, Te Kooti, and those rebels, and I think he was very much likened to the modern-day version of them - standing up for tangata whenua rights."

She said he was a hypnotic speaker.

"He just wraps you up in what he's saying."

Mamae Takerei served Dame Te Atairangikaahu and was intimately involved with organising Mr Mandela's visit to Turangawaewae.

She said she "literally undressed" the president then attached a microphone to the inside of his jacket lapel before he made his way onto the marae.

"I opened up his shirt and we were giggling and laughing away. He threw a joke to me and I'd return it. "I said: ‘I've never undressed a president before'. And he laughed.

"When the president stood up after he finished speaking, you could feel the emotion in the crowd. I have never seen that emotion on the marae until the tangi of Te Arikinui.

"When you measure that volume of emotion it's absolutely daunting."

After speaking, Mr Mandela made his way around the marae, to the cultural complex.

"It was during that time, you could feel the emerging of this manic emotion that was coming from the people."

She said it was lucky there was a strong security line, because people were surging forward - and even pushing Te Arikinui - in an effort to touch the president.

"His whole karma and charisma was surreal."

"On a marae there is a certain degree of protocol and behaviour expected, in this case people just lost all perspective of that."

"It was a day to remember."

Mr Mandela, down-to earth and comfortable, ate with Te Arikinui, she said.

Like King Tawhiao, Mr Mandela resonated a "godly" quality, she said.

"He brought hope to the people, and salvation."

"I think he has contributed a lifetime to the salvation of people. He's given people something to believe in." 

Waikato Times