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Former South African president Nelson Mandela personally congratulated 23 students who were awarded the Mandela Rhodes scholarship for 2008 on Tuesday in Johannesburg.
The 89-year-old Mandela, supported aide Zelda le Grange, slowly entered the room of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation where the students -- from all over Africa -- were anxiously awaiting the moment they would meet him.
One by one the students shook Mandela's hand and thanked him for the scholarship.
Christopher McConnachie -- studying law at Rhodes University in Grahamstown -- found his meeting with Mandela "absolutely incredible", though his memory of the moment was a "big blur".
"As a future lawyer, Mandela is a big inspiration to me. He showed how law can be used for social purposes rather than fattening bank accounts," he said.
Namibian national Bronwyn Tarr, studying biodiversity and evolutionary biology at the University of Cape Town, spontaneously hugged the former president.
"I couldn't help myself", she said later. "This meeting was phenomenally inspiring to me.
"Madiba is a universal symbol of peace and hope, all around the globe. He is a reference point for people of all ages in different countries: a common ground for humanity. That's why I am incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to hug him," she said.
This year's 23 students were the largest group awarded a scholarship in the four years of the foundation's existence.
The main goal of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa.
Therefore the scholarship is not awarded to South Africans exclusively. Eight of this year's scholars were originally from Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and Namibia.
All of the students studied at universities in South Africa.
Of the 43 students who had been awarded the Mandela Rhodes scholarship over the past three years, 36 had graduated and six were currently completing their degrees.
Scholarship coordinator Ruth Andrews said: "The scholarship is not just money. It very much focuses on mentoring the students."
The foundation supplies the scholars with four additional courses, focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, reconciliation and academia.
All students were expected to meet with their mentor at least once a month for a minimum of one-and-a-half-hours, Andrews said.
"The students are expected to pass all their courses and we like them to continue on the level on which they entered.
"But if a student's grades drop a little bit, we don't take the scholarship away. We give them the scholarship for the duration of their degree." - Sapa