The death of Nelson Mandela had a massive impact around the world as people came to terms with the loss of one of the most iconic figures of the last century.
But it held a special significance for a girls’ school which discovered one of its pupils had links to the former prisoner-turned-president.
When Batley Girls High’s executive head teacher Jackie Eames was asked by an 11-year-old girl whether she could read out her uncle’s poem to the school she did not realise that it would have a link to the biggest news story in the world.
The pupil Maymunah Kathrada is the niece of Ahmed Kathrada who spent more than two decades with Mandela as an inmate in jail in Robben Island for his role campaigning against the South African Apartheid regime.
The poem which Maymunah wanted to read was written by her uncle from his prison cell.
It calls for Robben Island not to be seen as a monument to their suffering but rather as a triumph of the human spirit over the forces of evil.
Maymunah first approached Mrs Eames to ask whether the poem could be read as part of the school’s annual East meets West evening.
Mrs Eames said: “When she first asked if she could read the poem it was just before Nelson Mandela had passed away and we did not realise who her uncle was. After Nelson Mandela passed away we decided to include a tribute to him as part of our East meets West evening which was done this year on the theme of journeys of faith. Maymunah then read her uncle’s poem to the school.”
Maymunah, said: “I am very proud of my uncle because he made a great sacrifice. I felt honoured that I could read his poem to others.” The school in Batley, holds the East Meets meets West evening annually as part of its end of year celebrations.
The school serves a mixed community with the majority of pupils coming from Pakistani or Indian backgrounds. Maymunah’s uncle Ahmed Kathrada is a South African from Indian descent.
Just days after Maymunah read her uncle’s words to her classmates at Batley Girls High’s East meets West evening Mr Kathrada spoke to an audience of millions as he earned worldwide praise for the emotional tribute he paid to Mandela at his funeral.
Mr Kathrada was a friend of Mandela’s for 67 years and his companion in prison on Robben island until their release in 1990.
At the funeral he said Mandela had united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale “never experienced before in history.”
While we will not forget
The brutality of Apartheid
We will not want
To be a monument
Of our hardship
We would want it
To be a triumph
Of the human spirit
Against the forces of evil
And largeness of spirit
Against small minds
A triumph of courage
Over human frailty