Mandela told little girl from Leeds he would always remember her

Esta Suma, 18.
Esta Suma, 18.
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SHE was just six years old when she met one of the most famous men in recent history.

They shared a precious few minutes together in Leeds Civic Hall, away from the throbbing crowds of thousands.

Nelson Mandela, hero to millions, told the young Esta Suma during his historic visit to Leeds in 2001, that he would never forget her or their meeting.

Now, 13 years on from that precious memory to the day, student Esta, now 18, has re-visited the spot where they met, as she took part in a week of celebrations in the city to commemorate the great man.

Esta said: “I was six at the time and my name had been picked from a hat with other people from the Chapeltown area to meet him. It was about giving him a gift, and my dad Musa Suma was an artist and I gave him one of my dad’s paintings of a woodland. I often wonder what happened to it or if he kept it.

“He said to me ‘I will always remember you’ and kissed me on the cheek. It was amazing and it is a great memory to have. I remember people encouraging me to smile when I met him and saying it was a great day for me, but I remember I was a bit serious, I don’t think I realised what a big deal it was at the time. It really changed me.”

Esta’s father Musa Suma died when she was three. He was a talented musician and artist who died during a routine operation in 1999.

Esta, from Chapeltown, who is a student at Leeds City College, has been among the many people who have attended Celebrate Mandela held in Leeds. It has seen the first ever UK unveiling of artwork with historic links to Nelson Mandela and signalled events in honour of the life and works of the global icon and the city’s strong ties with South Africa and to commemorate the historic visit in 2001 when South Africa’s first Black President received the Freedom of the City.

Today (Wednesday) a Mandela Memories event will mark Nelson Mandela’s visit to Leeds, the big screen in the city centre’s Millennium Square will air images and footage from the unforgettable day.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for Leisure and Sport, said: “Nelson Mandela meant many things to many people and Celebrate Mandela has provided an opportunity for a range of communities and individuals in Leeds to express their own personal connections to this great leader.

“It has highlighted the importance of the Leeds-Durban partnership which developed out of a sense of solidarity between our city and South Africa due to the strength of the very vocal decades long anti-apartheid movement in Leeds. As a city we need to ensure that young people in Leeds, who may not remember the struggle against apartheid or Mr Mandela’s visit, are aware of his legacy and the impact his visit had on our city.”

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