Mandela thanks Labour for help and makes a heartfelt plea to world

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His gait may have been slower, his stance a little stooped, but the smile was as broad and bright as ever as Nelson Mandela rounded off the Labour Party conference on the highest note possible yesterday.

His gait may have been slower, his stance a little stooped, but the smile was as broad and bright as ever as Nelson Mandela rounded off the Labour Party conference on the highest note possible yesterday.

To shouts and rapturous applause from the delegates in Brighton, one of the 20th century's greatest statesmen lent his considerable weight to Tony Blair's campaign to achieve a second term in office.

All thoughts of pensions rows and petrol crises were forgotten as the 82-year-old former South African president gave thanks to the Labour Party for its unstinting support to the anti-apartheid cause throughout his 27 long years in prison.

Self-deprecating, gracious, and utterly dignified, Mr Mandela also warned of the need to protect the poor from perils of globalisation and issued a rallying call to fight HIV and Aids in the developing world.

Cabinet ministers and delegates had leapt to their feet, cried and cheered as John Prescott introduced the party's newest honorary member, the man who he said embodied the principle that "I'm my brother's keeper".

A solitary South African flag, with a banner reading, "We love you Nelson", was waved in the crowd as Mr Blair walked in, arms linked with Mr Mandela for support. After a five-minute ovation, Mr Mandela proved he had lost none of his wry humour or his ability to puncture his saintly image.

"Prime Minister, Tony Blair, distinguished guests, I am intimidated," he said. "The reason so many people are here is purely out of curiosity. They want to see what a pensioner from the colonies looks like."

Yet the audience fell into a hush as Mr Mandela spoke, its silence broken only by occasional applause and the sound of cameras clicking.

In his half-hour address, Mr Mandela said one of the most distinguishing features of the anti-apartheid struggle was the broad support it enjoyed from most political parties around the globe.

Mr Mandela singled out the Labour Party for its contribution to the South African liberation movement and said Britain was "in so many respects the second headquarters of our movement in exile".

He also said that in South Africa 10 teachers died every month of Aids, in one university a student died every week. And in one of the country's most prominent universities, 25 per cent of students were HIV positive. The former ANC leader ended by declaring: "May this century be one where the poor and marginalised come into their own and the gross social inequalities of the past at last are eradicated."

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