Basingstoke dad recalls the day he met Nelson Mandela

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A BASINGSTOKE dad has recalled how he met Nelson Mandela when he was at university in South Africa.

The world has this week been mourning South Africa’s first black president, who died last Thursday at the age of 95 – and Leonard Nketsi is among those who had the privilege of meeting one of the greatest-ever leaders of any nation.

Mr Nketsi was studying for a teaching degree at the University of Johannesburg when Mr Mandela visited to address students on October 12, 1999.

Mr Nketsi said: “He was talking about how education is the key to success, and was encouraging all the students to get degrees as that’s the only way to empower the black people.”

Following the talk, Mr Nketsi saw Mr Mandela walking along the corridors of the university, and said: “I went straight to him.

“The bodyguards stopped me, and he told them ‘no, just leave him.’ “He was that kind of man. He told those taking pictures to take one of him with me.

“We both shook hands and I had a big smile on my face.”

He added: “I felt so great about it. He was one of the greatest leaders on earth.”

Mr Nketsi, a father-of-four from Cayman Close, Popley, left South Africa in 1991 to come to England, before returning in 1993.

He came back to the UK in 2001 and now works as a support worker at Parklands hospital, in Basingstoke.

The 49-year-old said of growing up in South Africa: “When you live in poverty, you don’t see that you live in poverty.

“When I came to this country I could walk in the street holding a mobile phone without someone mugging you.”

Recalling how he heard the news of Mr Mandela’s death, Mr Nketsi said: “I came back from work and phoned my son, and he said to me ‘Daddy, did you see that Nelson Mandela has passed away?’ I said ‘what?’ I dropped the phone.

“It was one of the saddest moments in my life. I looked at the picture of me with him, and saw the people in Soweto, and I felt so sad.”

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