‘The most uplifting day we’ve ever seen’

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NELSON Mandela holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Leeds which honoured him on his only visit to Yorkshire in 2001.

LIVEBLOG: Mandela tributes and memorial

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Thousands of well-wishers flocked to Millennium Square to catch a glimpse of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

During his visit the former president, who preached reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years, rededicated the Mandela Garden.

Among those lucky enough to see one of the world’s most revered statesmen was Susan Pitter.

Susan, who was Leeds’s first black Lady Mayoress, recalls Mandela’s visit.

“I remember feeling on the day that this is the most uplifting day that the city has ever seen,” she said.

“I remember saying it at the time and I still say it now. People were just in awe of someone who is certainly the greatest icon in our history.

“He asked to lean on my arm during his walk around Civic 
Hall. That will always be special to me.

“I just can’t see anyone that will take his place in the world’s history.

“This city will not ever have a greater man visit.”

Yesterday Susan was among the crowds who gathered at the Mandela Centre, in Chapeltown, to sign a special book of remembrance.

Mahalia France-Mir, 37, and her 20-month-old daughter Eve reflected on Mr Mandela’s legacy at the centre.

Mahalia said: “It was just so sad when I heard the news.

“I was in Millennium Square when he visited and it was just surreal to see him.

“I just wish I could have got closer to him and shook his hand.

“His legacy will be equality, peace, forgiveness and humanity.

“We just hope that his legacy will go on forever.”

Claude Hendrickson, 53, from Chapeltown, is the founder of Chapeltown Young People’s Club based at the Mandela Centre.

He is also the manager of the Race Card project which aims to challenge social justice inequalities and racism through the media.

He hopes that stories of Mandela will be passed down the generations.

He said: “I was in Millennium Square when he came it there was almost an aura around him because people almost looked at him in disbelief.

“Being a black man growing up here there was a sense of pride and the sense of this is what can be achieved.

“He is the epitome of coming through oppression and becoming an icon.

“I think that his legacy is going to be if you believe then you can achieve.

“Stories of Mandela will be told until the end of time. He is the greatest statesperson we have seen in our lifetime and touched the world.”

Leeds City Council councillor Bernard Atha was the Lord Mayor of Leeds at the time of Mandela’s visit.

He paid tribute to him and said he hopes that his legacy will remain in Leeds.

He said: “I just found it quite amazing when Mandela came to the city. His visit had a significant impact on Leeds.

“I think his legacy is most important and I hope that his death will inspire people.”

The books of condolence will be open at the Reginald Centre and the Mandela Centre today between 9am and 4pm.

LIVEBLOG: Mandela tributes and memorial