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South African students in the UK remember Nelson Mandela

6th December 2013

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As the world mourns Nelson Mandela, South African students and graduates in Britain have been remembering their country’s first black president. We asked some of them what his passing means to them.

Cindy Smith, 26, was brought up in South Africa and has an MSc in Economics and Econometrics from Nottingham University. She is Cape Coloured – of mixed race ethnicity, a group that was defined as ‘coloured’ under apartheid.

She says: “Mandela was, and will always be a great leader and a symbol of those who fought for freedom of our nation. 

“I remember as a child walking in the streets of Cape Town with my parents, celebrating Mandela's presidency and you could feel the excitement in the air; it was the day a nation and my own destiny changed. It wasn't just the act of becoming president, but his humility, kindness and forgiveness changed the hearts of a nation.

“I am proud to be South African and Mandela has always inspired me to fight against inequality and social injustice. I hope his legacy will continue to influence the direction of our country and that future generations will learn about our heritage and the sacrifices made for freedom.”

Nathan Siebritz, of Cardiff University, moved to the UK from South Africa when he was six, and says “I honestly don't know if there is a title that can really do all that he has done justice.”

What did he feel when he heard the news of his death? “Sadness and loss, and despite knowing it would happen soon, a little bit of shock.”

They are sentiments echoed by Josh Harbourne, 22, a graduate of Liverpool University whose parents lived in South Africa for 30 years. He also moved to the UK at the age of six and says that we “cannot define” Mandela.

Josh says that the one moment in Mandela’s life that stands out to him the most is “the speech in the dock, the Rugby World Cup final, hands in the air with de Klerk,” referring to the speech made alongside Frederik Willem de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era President, in 1995.  

He adds: “He's beyond iconic; people have been canonised for less than his monumental achievements. He is RSA.”

Nelson Mandela, Madiba: he IS the Republic of South Africa. It is a statement that many of those in South Africa and elsewhere have long agreed with, and one which seems especially relevant now, as the world moves to mourn a symbol of freedom and dignity that has rarely been matched in recent history.

Image credit: K. Kendall, Fotopedia.

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