A SOLITARY candle flickers in Sunderland Minster.
Placed there in memory of Nelson Mandela, visitors are already pausing to spend a few minutes reflecting on the life of the great man.
A special service will be held at the minster as part of the Human Rights Day Vigil, at 2pm to 3.30pm on Sunday.
Reverend Chris Howson today told how there was no better occasion than Human Rights Day, to pay tribute to the freedom fighter.
“This is a man whose entire life was devoted to hope, freedom and justice for his people,” Rev Howson said.
“He will continue to be an inspiration for the work and his legacy is probably the post powerful one on this planet.”
Sunderland City Council plans to open a book of condolence, which will be displayed at the civic centre for Wearsiders to show their support.
Council leader Paul Watson said: “He is a world figure who has acted for the good of world peace and reconciliation. Obviously he will leave a gap and hopefully there will be people to fill these enormous shoes that he’s left.”
Tahir Khan, chairman of multicultural organisation Unity, based in Hylton Road, said: “It’s very sad news. Such a talented and powerful person is going to be missed dearly.
“A man who left a legacy for the world to follow, peace and prosperity was his message and we should respect that. He fought for many, many years for human rights and equal opportunities.”
Sunderland Tory group leader Robert Oliver said: “Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to everyone for the courageous and tenacious way he fought against apartheid in South Africa.
“Despite his many years in prison, he displayed a total lack of bitterness towards his captors and was able to unite people of all colours.”
The city’s MPs also expressed their sadness. Houghton and Sunderland South MP, Bridget Phillipson, said: “Nelson Mandela was an inspiration. He was a beacon of forgiveness, hope and courage whose legacy lives on.
“He will forever remain a symbol of what reconciliation can achieve and his determination reminds us of the need to do more to tackle injustice and poverty. We have lost a true hero of our age.”
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said: “He achieved so much for so many people that, even though he is no longer with us, his memory will never fade.
“We may have lost a true hero of our times, but his pursuit of justice and equality will continue to serve as inspiration for those who want to improve the lives of others around the world.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has praised the “compassion and forgiveness” of Mr Mandela.
Describing him as the “greatest freedom fighter” she said South Africa’s first black president had led “an entire generation” and recalled a brief meeting with Mr Mandela.
Ms Baird said: “His compassion and forgiveness were real and unimaginable to most people, after his imprisonment for 27 years.
“His palpable example was so important to all the people of South Africa, of every colour and racial origin, to promote the cause of reconciliation amongst them.
“He led an entire generation who championed a world cause against apartheid in South Africa and many people, who were continents away from the struggle, worshipped him.”
Ms Baird met Mr Mandela at a ceremony where she became a QC and he was awarded an Honorary QC.
“I was overwhelmed to meet him and lucky enough to have a short conversation with him and to shake his hand,” she added. “It was the most important event for me that day.”