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Essex joins tributes from around the world in paying respect to Nelson Mandela
Tributes from Essex have joined world leaders' following the death of Nelson Mandela.
Mr Mandela visited Colchester when his then future wife Graça Machel was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Essex.
Graça, a Mozambican politician and humanitarian, is an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights and in 1997 was made a British dame for her humanitarian work.
The third wife of the former South African president was also honoured at a ceremony at the university’s Wivenhoe campus in July of that year.
She was given the doctorate for her UN work on behalf of children in armed conflict.
Crowds of university staff gathered to get a glimpse of Mandela.
Prof Sir Nigel Rodley, the chairman of the university’s Human Rights Centre, was one of the members of staff who got to meet Mr Mandela.
He said: “My late colleague Professor Kevin Boyle, who was then the director of the Human Rights Centre, escorted President Mandela round our exhibition, of which I was custodian.
“Kevin introduced us, identifying me as the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of torture.
“We shook hands and Mandela stunned me by saying ‘The world needs more people like you’.
“I recovered fast enough to ask him where he thought we got our inspiration from, and he chuckled and patted me firmly on the shoulder.”
Sir Nigel subsequently took part in a human rights training course on Robben Island, where Mr Mandela had endured 27 years’ confinement and which is now a museum and conference centre. Sir Nigel said: “We saw the cells of the political prisoners, including Mandela’s, and we knew about the indignities and brutalities meted out to the prisoners for much of their time there.
“It defied imagination to understand how the genial, tolerant man I met could have emerged from that experience as the moral giant who could bring true reconciliation to a country that had been so cruelly and arbitrarily divided.
“I am privileged to have met him.”
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