GWENT politicians have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela who died in Johannesburg last night. Flags at the Senedd and Newport civic centre were flying at half-mast.

Former Labour leader and Islwyn MP, Neil Kinnock and his wife Glenys said Mandela was a “supreme inspiration to us from the early 1960’s when we first campaigned against Apartheid.

They said: “He showed unsurpassed courage and endurance in his fight against oppression, unequalled humanity in his guidance to South Africa and the World.

“He had the strength to be merciful, the wisdom to be gentle and generous. We salute those qualities of truly great leadership.

“It was a privilege to meet Mandela the hero, a delight to know Nelson the man. We cherish memories of time spent with him – and to be called ‘comrade‘ by him was an unforgettable honour.

“We send our love and deepest sympathy to Graca and the Mandela family.”

The South Wales Argus front page from 12th February 1990 showing celebrations at the release of Nelson Mandela from prison:

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Paul Murphy, MP for Torfaen, said: “I vividly remember visiting South Africa when I was Northern Ireland Secretary, to look at their Peace and Reconciliation process. It brought home dramatically the huge influence of Nelson Mandela, who symbolised the very word reconciliation.

“His fight for justice changed South Africa and the world for the better. His strength in the face of oppression was unshakable, even at great personal cost to himself, spending 27 years unjustly imprisoned by a brutal racist regime.

“But perhaps most impressive of all was his forgiveness towards those who had done such wrong. When he was finally released from Robben Island, he knew the right thing to do was not to be vengeful or cynical, but to look to the future, to built a more equal and just South Africa. His will for change and compassion are an example to us all.”

David Hando, a former Lib Dem councillor and honorary president of Newport County football club, told of how he stopped going to Newport rugby matches after it decided to tour South Africa.

“A group of us who were supporters wrote to the then match secretary RT Carter to ask if he would discuss this. He refused.

“I just stopped going,” he said, adding he later returned to Rodney Parade to march with Peter Hain when Newport hosted South Africa in 1969.

“We were asked by the people of South Africa to boycott everything. Sport, particularly rugby, was a very import matter to the apartheid regime,” said Mr Hando.

“Mandela was a hero of the people at the time. His work in reconciliation was an object lesson to us all.”

The Argus front page on the day of the demonstration against South Africa playing at Rodney Parade:

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Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith recounted his memory of when he saw the statesman speak in London during the 1990s.

He said: “I woke up this morning to the hugely sad news that this fantastic world leader had passed away.

“My personal memory is of Nelson Mandela speaking on the balcony of the South Africa High Commission outside Trafalgar Square in 1996.

“I remember holding my baby girl in my arms and being spellbound at his humility, humanity and hope for the future.

“South Africa is going through a difficult time at the moment. I hope his inspiration will help that country prosper in the future.”

Newport West MP Paul Flynn said: “He is the dominant politician of the last 100 years. He succeeded with intelligence, compromise and generosity. He is the epitome of all that is best in politics.”

Newport East AM John Griffiths, who is Wales’ culture minister, remembered how he would have debates with fruit and veg sellers in the open air market in Pill during the 1980s.

Anti-apartheid campaigners advocated a boycott of goods from South Africa, while nations around the world imposed economic sanctions on the country.

Mr Griffiths said: “I think we should remember that the anti-apartheid movement in Wales was very strong and also Wales was part of that international effort to bring about a free South Africa with a proper democracy.

“He was a hero right across the world. People were so incredibly impressed with his lack of bitterness after he was released from prison after 27 years.

“It was so good that he lived for so many years after his release, the fact that he lived to be the first president after free elections in South Africa.

Tory Newport council group leader Councillor Matthew Evans said he had “enormous respect and admiration for Nelson Mandela” who he said “always led by example”.

As a schoolboy in Caerphilly, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East Lindsay Whittle travelled to protest outside Rodney Parade when Newport hosted South Africa in 1969.

“As a 16-year-old I was opposed to apartheid, although I did not know of Nelson Mandela at that time,” he told the Argus.

“Myself and a friend hitched a lift from Caerphilly. We got a lift from Tony Lewis, the Glamorgan and England cricketer. He didn’t realise we were going to join the hundreds protesting rather than to watch the match. “Without Nelson Mandela’s influence, I hate to think what would have happened in South Africa when apartheid ended.

“He was a colossus who was jailed for what he passionately believed in and to show no bitterness after his release was awe-inspiring.”

“Though he lost 27 years of his life to imprisonment he gained immortality”.

Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent, said: “I was so sad to hear that Nelson Mandela has died. He led his country to freedom and was an inspiration to people across the world.

“I was an active anti-apartheid campaigner in the eighties and he was an inspiration to people across the world not only in his dignity but in his compassion and determination to heal the wounds of conflict.”

Caerphilly MP Wayne David said: "Sad that Nelson Mandela has passed away. But grateful for all he did for freedom and peace." He spoke of the "privilege" of having met him when he visited Cardiff.

Newport AM and Assembly presiding officer, Rosemary Butler, said flags would fly at half mast today and on the day of Mr Mandela's funeral.

She added: "These days we often apply the description great to people but Nelson Mandela truly was a great human being."

Mrs Uzo Iwobi OBE of Race Council Cymru paid this tribute to Nelson Mandela: "The sad passing of Nelson Mandela marks a moment for personal reflection on the huge personal impact he had on the fight to end oppression not just in his home nation of South Africa but around the world and here in Wales.

"Mr Mandela's indefatigable spirit and commitment to creating a more just, equal and fair society still has an impact in Wales today. Race Council Cymru is steadfast in its commitment to work towards a Welsh nation that is free from prejudice and racial discrimination."

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