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Birmingham bids farewell to Mandela

FIRM FRIENDS: A young Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela

JESSE JACKSON led Birmingham’s tributes to the renowned anti-apartheid leader at a dinner in the city where he was guest of honour.

Jackson broke the news of the former South African President’s passing during the event which was organised by East End Foods.

There were gasps from the audience as Jackson took to the stage to pay homage to his friend.

“My heart weighs heavy,” he told the 300 guests, adding that he had been at Mandela’s presidential inauguration where they forged a strong friendship.

“Mandela is not gone – he remains with us always. He chose reconciliation over retaliation. He changed the course of history” he said.

Monica Coke, a trustee of Kajans Hospitality and Catering Studio College, who was at the dinner, said: “Some people were quite emotional - others gasped in shock. After Jesse Jackson told us, we all held hands together and said a prayer.

“But at the same time it was a tranquil moment. It was a feeling that something you hold dear had just been lost. I think everyone in the room had the same feeling.”

IN AWE: Phyllis Haye who met Mandela during his visit to Birmingham in 1993

Mandela came to Birmingham two decades ago in 1993, visiting a primary school named after him, and meeting Handsworth residents at their local leisure centre.

Phyllis Haye, who is still a receptionist there, remembers the thrill of shaking his hand.

“He took my breath away - he was so tall and handsome and such a gentleman,” she said. “The whole centre was buzzing and people of every colour were queuing to greet him. You felt like you were meeting the king.”

Birmingham-based photographer Vanley Burke visited South Africa several times and photographed Mandela after being personally invited by a member of the African National Congress. He photographed Mandela around the time of his 78th birthday and his images were included in leather bound volumes, signed by Mandela himself, which helped to fund the building of a home for elders in Soweto.

Burke recalled the appalling poverty he witnessed in the sprawling South African township where three million black people who lived there were used as ‘a reservoir of labour’ to service the whites living in Johannesburg 12 miles away.

“On the occasions I met Mandela I found him to be an extraordinarily humble man. He would seek out the ordinary people, not just the dignitaries. When entering a building he made a point of visiting the kitchens to talk to the people who would be serving him.”

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