Waikato grieves for a 'hero of our lifetime'

Last updated 09:26 07/12/2013
Nelson Mandela memorial
Reuters Zoom
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.

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An outpouring of sorrow from all corners of Waikato has joined millions of international tributes at the death of one of the world's greatest leaders.

Nelson Mandela's long illness gave expatriate South Africans in Waikato a chance to deal with their grief but Afrikaans Christian Church minister Johan Hendricks said they would still feel a great loss.

"He was one of the few modern-day heroes, a real hero that has lived in our lifetime," Mr Hendricks said.

Mr Mandela was admitted to a Pretoria hospital last June in a serious condition and returned home on September 1 in a critical condition.

The political prisoner-turned president was jailed for 27 years after he was found guilty of conspiracy to overthrow the South African government. His ill health has been attributed to his 18 years confined to the wind-swept Robben Island.

He emerged from detention in 1990 to fight and win South Africa's first democratically elected presidency in 1994 and was considered the father of modern South Africa.

Mr Hendricks said Mr Mandela was a great man who earned the respect and reverence of all South Africans.

"He was, for all South Africans, a symbol of reconciliation and from my perspective, he was instrumental in doing something that was close to a miracle."

"Even if you have a negative feeling of what he did before he went to prison, everybody appreciated him for what he did after he came out of prison. Nobody can say anything negative about his life after that."

Mr Mandela attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland in 1995 and took time to attend a powhiri at Turangawaewae Marae hosted by the late Maori Queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. More than 3000 people packed into the marae grounds to see Mr Mandela as he was escorted by Te Atairangikaahu's son and the current Maori king Tuheitia.

King Tuheitia said yesterday he was full of sorrow for a man who inspired so many. "Our thoughts are with the family of Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa at this time and we, along with the peoples of the world mourn the loss of one of the twentieth century's greatest and most inspirational figures."

A protea plant, the national flower of South Africa and a mere shrub at the time, was gifted to the marae by Mr Mandela and flourished into a tree just behind the marae courtyard.

"I will remember him as a humble man with a great heart and a huge smile who gave himself totally to the cause of freedom and equality for all."

All Black and King Country great Sir Colin Meads made tours of South Africa during the apartheid era and met Mandela on the All Blacks' first post-apartheid tour of South Africa.

He told the Times that the South Africa they visited was at a crossroads and though he wasn't part of the All Black tour at the time, he was asked by Eddie Tonks to join the official delegation to meet Mr Mandela.

He returned to South Africa for the 1995 Rugby World Cup and watched as South Africa emerged as the Rainbow Nation.

"It was a tremendous occasion for South Africa," Meads said. "It's easy to say now but it was a wonderful thing for their reintroduction into world sport on the big arena. It was a very proud country and a very proud Mandela that night."

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- Waikato

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