Tributes to 'icon of all icons'

This Is Local London: Neath MP Peter Hain described Nelson Mandela as the "icon of all icons" Neath MP Peter Hain described Nelson Mandela as the "icon of all icons"

A politician whose family fled South Africa because of their support for Nelson Mandela's cause described the late great former South African president as the "icon of all icons".

Noble peace prize winner Mr Mandela died today aged 95 following a long battle against ill health.

News of his death was met with great sadness in Wales - where the father-of-five's fight against oppression struck a chord with many.

Among those spearheading the tributes on the western side of Severn Bridge was Neath MP Peter Hain.

The 63-year-old said there had long been a bond between Wales and the man known to friends as "Madiba" - and cited the anti-apartheid demonstrations against the then all-white Springboks rugby team's game in Swansea in 1969.

The former Welsh Secretary also fondly recalled the former President's first and only visit to Wales back in 1998 - when he was awarded the Freedom of Cardiff.

He said: "Cardiff that day experienced a vintage Mandela performance.

"He ignored my guiding arm on his elbow and stopped at a group of primary school children sparkling in Welsh national dress.

"As the queue of VIPs waited, sweating in the unusually hot weather, he began conducting the children to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

"I later learned that it was the absence of his children that he missed most in all his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island."

Mr Hain, whose family's associations with the anti-Apartheid movement saw them blacklisted by the South African authorities in the 1960s - also described Mr Mandela as "a friend and a hero".

Recalling Mr Mandela's 2000 visit to the Labour Party conference in Brighton, he said: "As I escorted him inside, he asked his usual question: 'How's the family?'.

"On hearing my mother was in Swansea's Morriston Hospital with a fractured femur, he stopped immediately and said that he must speak to her.

"Out came my mobile and, when she answered from her hospital ward, she was greeted with: 'Hullo. Nelson Mandela here, do you remember me?'

"That's what made him so extraordinary - he remained above all a people's person which is highly unusual amongst global leaders or celebrities of his stature."

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