Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 12:18 UK

Your stories: Meeting Mandela

The former South Africa president Nelson Mandela will be 90 in July. To mark this milestone, people from around the world share their memories of meeting Mr Mandela.

Gabriel Gabiro

I'm a Rwandan and I currently study at Stockholm University in Sweden.

I'm not given to worshiping celebrities or any other personalities.

One exception though was about five years ago when Nelson Mandela was attending the signing of the Burundi peace accord in Arusha, Tanzania.

I was there with some friends and we waited for over seven hours to get a chance to see him. We passed the time by discussing what he means to Africa and what he means to people outside of Africa.

Mr Mandela passed the small crowds that had gathered and to my surprise he stopped in front of me and offered his hand for me to shake. He said to me, "young man you should be at school". I could only smile in response.

I never expected to see him up that close let alone talk to me. It was an indelible moment in my life. He is by far my biggest hero of all time.


I was born in Johannesburg in South Africa and I met Mr Mandela when I was a small child.

Mr Mandela taught me how to read by reading Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit
My father worked in a magistrate's court and one day I was in his office. I had some books with me. I didn't know it was him at the time but Mr Mandela asked me what I was reading. I looked up at the tall man with the amazing voice and eyes.

He asked me if he could take a look at the book. I gave it to him and then he started to read to me.

I could only read about five words. But over a period of about six weeks, he read to me the same book on a daily basis. He put such amazing enthusiasm in a child's fairy story that I learnt to read the book. I think of it now and it is something that has stayed with me all my life.

I did not see him again after that, but my father met him again about nine years ago. He asked Mr Mandela if he remembered reading to me and he said that he did.

To me he is very special and I still have the book that he read to me! He helped me to have a love of books and of reading. I think he is a legend in Africa and I don't think there will be another one.

Robert McDonald

In 2003, I went to the International Aids Society Conference in Paris where Nelson Mandela was making a speech.

I sat quite close to the stage and when Nelson Mandela walked out, tears immediately came to my eyes. They were tears of respect out of my usually dry eyes.

I've never been affected like that before. To see this man, who spent 27 years in prison and who later became president of South Africa was overwhelming.

At the end of his speech, some protestors stood up chanting. I don't recall the words exactly, but it was in reference to the disparity between the need and the monetary commitment to global HIV care.

One protestor went to the stage and a bouncer moved to intercept her but Mr Mandela stopped the bouncer. In fact, he hugged the protestor and chanted with her, and the others joined them on the stage.

This is a guy imprisoned for nearly three decades and here he is, embracing activists who are crying out to have their voices heard, much as he did from the wilderness of prison for all those years. We need more Nelson Mandelas in our world.

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