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Birmingham bows to Mandela

MANDELA HONOURED: A speaker at the event

MEMBERS OF Birmingham’s African and Caribbean community were out in force to show respect for the life of Nelson Mandela – one of their own who they say inspires them in their everyday struggles.

Many in national dress celebrated Madiba’s life with singing and dancing at The Drum arts centre in Aston while others attended a special Freedom Sunday service at The Rock, the New Testament Church of God in Hockley.

Some had been lucky enough to meet Mandela personally when he visited Birmingham in 1993 and met hundreds of people at Symphony Hall.

Bishop Dr Derek Webley told of how he had crossed paths with him back stage at the event and Mandela addressed him as 'father' because he was wearing a clerical collar.

“I told him that I had always wanted to meet him and we shook hands,” said Bishop Webley, speaking at The Rock.

“He said: ‘Will you pray for me and pray for a peaceful election in South Africa?’ We prayed there and then back stage together and he said: ‘Thank you father, thank you my son’. It’s a memory that will always stay with me.

“Mandela was an ordinary person who achieved extraordinary things. God found the gift of humanity in Nelson Mandela.”

While veteran civil rights campaigner Maxie Hayles, who recalled marching with the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, said: “Black people all over the world will be viewed more positively because of this man.

“Nelson Mandela was the best example of forgiveness and reconciliation that we have ever witnessed.”

Community activist Desmond Jaddoo added: “This was someone who was labelled a terrorist when he was simply fighting for freedom. Every so often the Lord puts someone on earth to change people. He was someone who said we are going to make a change and he lived to see it.”

The service, hosted by Pastor Peter Pennant, who chairs the Council of Black-Led Churches, invited other denominations to speak including Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi and the Very Right Reverend Monsignor Pat Browne, of St Chad’s Cathedral, and Sewa Singh Mandla, of Birmingham's Nishkam Centre.

Minister Fikile Bernado, who is from Qunu, the same village as Mandela, on South Africa’s Eastern Cape, danced and sang a traditional song as the service began.

Rev George Miller, of Reconciliation Ministries International, said: “When I watched his funeral service, he made me so proud to be a black man. May his achievements continue as a legacy in South Africa.”

Mashuq Ally, Birmingham City Council’s assistant director of equalities and human resources, called Mandela a fighter, a liberator and a revolutionary, but more importantly a peace maker.

While Councillor Paulette Hamilton said: “He went through so much but was blessed with the ability to forgive.”

At the Drum, there were far more entertainers wanting to perform than time allowed for a five-hour tribute event. People queued to sign a book of remembrance.

Charles Small, CEO, said: “The many community leaders who are here show the level of respect for Mandela. So many people wanted to pay tribute and give their services for free.”

Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, speaking at the Drum, said: “Mandela made us mindful that we should never let anyone trample our humanity under foot.”

But Bini Brown, a staunch supporter of the Pan African movement, warned that South Africa’s struggles were far from over.

“People must not overlook that Mandela is buried on land that his family had to buy back. The struggle goes on,” he said.

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