Video: Leeds joins world in mourning loss of Nelson Mandela

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He was the light that led millions out of the darkness. And communities across Leeds joined the world in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela.

The former South African president and anti-apartheid hero died on Thursday night aged 95.

ROSE TO REMEMBER: Laying a flower at the Mandela Garden in Leeds city centre. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

ROSE TO REMEMBER: Laying a flower at the Mandela Garden in Leeds city centre. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

And the man who united a nation has a special place in the hearts of residents in Leeds.

Mandela was made an honorary freeman of the city during an official visit in 2001.

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.

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

“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 Mahalia France-Mir, 37, and her 20-month-old daughter Eve reflected on 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.”

Kathy Williams, who is the director of RJC Dance, said that the group will dedicate their Christmas show in memory of Nelson Mandela.

She added: “We knew that he was very ill but you are never really prepared for when it does happen. It just hit me with sadness.

“There are young people who may have heard of him but have not known what he stood for.

“We want to hopefully encourage other people to spread the word about Mandela.”

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

He paid tribute to Mandela 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.

The third book, which is located at the Civic Hall, will be open for signing throughout the weekend.