Meeting Mandela: Your experiences

By Stephen Fottrell & Andree Massiah
BBC News

  • Published

South Africans and people around the world are remembering Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95.

Crowds have gathered in Johannesburg and Soweto to pay tribute to the former South African president.

He is to be given a state funeral on Sunday, 15 December, President Jacob Zuma announced.

Here, readers in South Africa and elsewhere share their memories and experiences of meeting Mr Mandela.

Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase, Rwandan in Johannesburg

"I arrived in South Africa as a refugee in 2001 and, after becoming a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, I had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela on three occasions.

When I first met him in 2006, I was so nervous, but he had such a jovial energy that made me feel special, as if he was focused on me alone. Very few people have that gift.

My favourite occasion was when I met him on his 90th birthday. I have goose-bumps just talking about it.

We were presented to him as his birthday 'presents', and were told by the CEO of the Rhodes Foundation, who presented us, that his legacy would live on and that we would pick up the baton for the next generation.

I will never forget how pleased he was. It was a very special moment. I am now committed to carrying on that legacy.

Considering my background, coming from Rwanda, a country with so much pain and grief, I hope now to contribute to a society where all men are equal, in accordance with Nelson Mandela's legacy."

Jennifer Smit, South African living in London, UK

"In 1998 I held Mandela's hands. Or rather, he held mine. It was in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa, when I was a student.

I have never forgotten how these hands - the hands of a former president, a freedom fighter and a Nobel Peace prize winner - felt like the hands of my grandfather.

I suppose that explains why I feel like I have lost a much loved member of my own family today.

I am so grateful to have witnessed the change he brought to my country, and so blessed to have him as a role model.

He was no saint, but he was, as Barack Obama put it, profoundly good.

I am on my way to a gathering in London's Parliament Square today to remember him."

Richard Moore, Thailand, originally from Manchester, UK

"The night before Mr Mandela was released from prison, I was staying in Cape Town with some white South Africans. Everyone was concerned about what might happen after his release. But I said that there would be a peaceful transition.

On the day of his release, I waited outside the prison and saw him walk out.

South Africa will always be my first love as a result of the whole experience of that trip, including Mr Mandela's release.

I later met Mr Mandela in August 1997 at a trade show in Gaborone, Botswana.

I was with my four-year-old son Josh, who was the only child in the room, when a bodyguard came up to me and asked if l would mind if Mr Mandela greeted my son and I, and that he would probably want to pick my son up and talk to him.

I obviously had no objection. He came through the crowd, spoke to me and took Josh from my arms and spoke to him for a couple of minutes.

I have met presidents before but l can honestly say Mr Mandela was the most genuinely humble man l have ever met. He had no air or superiority, pride or arrogance whatsoever."

Barlow Yacoob, South African living in London, UK

"I had the pleasure of meeting Mandela shortly after he was released from prison. I remember shaking his hand, but not looking him in the eye.

I was amazed at the size of his shoes. When I relayed this encounter to my mum, it dawned on me that no one will ever fill those shoes.

I am writing this with tears in my eyes, as a black South African who grew up in the dark days of South African politics.

This man changed not only our lot, but the way we think, the way in which we interact with others, immaterial of race, colour, creed or social standing.

I lost my father in April of this year and I did a lot of crying, and I am doing it again, like so many other South Africans.

He was the father of our nation. I am who I am because of his selfless sacrifice, standing up to the man, not just for himself but for the millions of my countrymen.

The world is a better place for having had such an individual walk through it. I salute you Madiba."

Marcelle Feenstra, Pretoria, South Africa

"Madiba was a very special man. My husband and I met him at a business conference not long after his inauguration as president in 1994.

It was an uncertain time. But he was so warm. He was busy speaking to someone else and he shook my husband's hand and held it until the other person had finished talking, just to make us feel important. He touched many people's lives in this manner. Everyone was special to him.

Everyone is feeling so sad here. It will be a unifying time for everyone, black and white.

I will try to get close to his body when it is lying in state in Pretoria next week, but there are going to be a lot of people there.

I actually met Winnie Mandela just a couple of weeks ago, at an embassy reception, and we were speaking about what happened in the past and the importance of forgiving and forgetting.

May Nelson Mandela rest in peace. We will miss him."

Sanjiv Vedi, Cardiff, Wales

"In 1998, I was working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and was trying to arrange a meeting with Nelson Mandela.

I went to an event at Johannesburg Cathedral that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was attending. I didn't know that Mr Mandela would be there.

After the memorial I approached him and asked if I could speak to him. He was going to another meeting but we sat in his car and we talked for an hour about politics in South Africa and what the government was doing.

He treated me like I was more important that anyone else. It was a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my days.

I was quite upset when I heard the news about Mr Mandela. It was like losing a close member of the family.

Because of him, I got involved in the anti-apartheid campaign.

Mr Mandela was one person who has had a major influence on my life."