News / Africa

South Africans Recall How Mandela Touched Their Lives

Balloons bearing a picture of former South African President Nelson Mandela are seen on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Mandela resided when he lived in the township, Dec. 7, 2013.
Balloons bearing a picture of former South African President Nelson Mandela are seen on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Mandela resided when he lived in the township, Dec. 7, 2013.
In the days following Nelson Mandela's death, radio stations in South Africa have opened their phone lines so listeners can call in thoughts and memories of Mandela. Those who met Mandela say he was a person who took the time and energy to engage with people.

In 1990, Karl Soderbergh was fresh out of law school, working at an organization that specialized in human-rights law.

"We had the privilege of helping to organize his Washington trip," he said. "So in organizing the trip, I was at the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium [in Washington] when he arrived. Of course I was a very young man then, pretty much fresh out of law school, and it’s a memory that will stay with me the rest of my life."

Soderbergh, who now lives in Stockholm, was in town for a legal conference when Mandela died. Heading to the airport to return to Sweden Friday, he decided to stop at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa's government headquarters, to sign a condolences book.

Nelson Mandela

  • 1918 - Born in Transkei, South Africa
  • 1944 - Joined African National Congress
  • 1956 - Charged with treason, later acquitted
  • 1962 - Convicted of sabotage and sentenced to 5 years
  • 1964 - Sentenced to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the government
  • 1990 - Released from prison
  • 1991 - Elected president of ANC
  • 1993 - Won Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994 - Elected president of South Africa
  • 1999 - Decided not to seek a second term as president
  • 2004 - Retired from public life
  • 2007 - Formed The Elders group
  • 2011 - Briefly hospitalized for a chest infection
  • 2012 - Hospitalized again,this time for gallstones
  • 2013 - Treated for a recurring lung infection, dies on Dec. 5
Meeting the anti-apartheid icon 24 years ago, he says, was among the highlights of his life.

"The thing that struck me then, and remains with me, was that he was so very present in his meeting with individual people," he said. "We weren't just one in a long line. He paused and really took time and was there with each and every one of us. And that's something I respected hugely. Because he clearly was someone who met thousands of people in his long life. I hardly remember [what I said]. It was basically my stuttering some words of admiration and him smiling."

Since Thursday, radio station 702 in South Africa has been taking hundreds of calls — not only from dignitaries who knew Mandela, but also from average South Africans.

For many, those interactions with the historic figure were among the most vivid highlights in their lives.

Mandela was known to shake hands with his security guards and walk over to people to greet them. His background — growing up in a rural area, coming to Johannesburg as a laborer, spending years in prison and then becoming a world-renowned politician — allowed him to interact with people in all walks of life.

Desmond Jingisa, 34, of Pretoria, grew up in a household that revered Mandela. Jingisa's father, a teacher, was an activist and told his son about the country's first black president. They felt a special bond with Mandela, who, like them, was an ethnic Xhosa.

"I actually had the privilege of meeting him in 1993 when he was still campaigning for the [African National Congress]," said Jingisa, who was 10 when Mandela was freed from prison, which he recalls watching and discussing with his parents.

"He was actually telling people that they need to get their IDs, people need to vote. People need to register to vote. People need to vote for ANC. The first time in South Africa. Like everyone was excited, I was among those kids."

Though he didn't get to speak to Mandela, the day stuck with him.

"I was about 14, I couldn't vote," he said. "The only thing I remember doing [was]: We were kids and we wanted to touch him, but unfortunately I didn't get that privilege. But then I never really interacted with him on a one-on-one basis. But like I managed to see him. At least that is one fondest memories I have."

Simon Delmont, 23, a fourth-year law student, met Mandela when he was in grade school in Johannesburg. He attended school with the president's grandchildren. Mandela visited the school about three times when he was enrolled there, and stood for a photo with Delmont.

"He hugged me," Delmont said. "I was very young, especially in that photo. I don't really remember much. I remember him being there and being overly excited. It was a very beautiful time."

Mandela also attended PTA meetings that his parents attended.

"All of the sudden he walked in and he sat through the whole meeting and he shared his views of how the school should be and how things should be run," Delmont said.

Mandela's talks with students were life lessons. Delmont said it made him "look at every single person as an equal. And I do not judge anyone based on their educational  status, on their race, on their gender, on their sexual orientation.

"He said it in a way that we all understood," Delmont continued. "He spoke to us as individuals and in a way that we as youngsters would understand."

South Africans everywhere set aside Sunday as a day of prayers to honor Mandela and console his family. A huge crowd is expected for the first public memorial service, on Tuesday in Soweto's FNB Stadium.

Related photogallery:
  • A young boy tried to squeeze his name onto a Mandela poster outside his home in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Messages of thanks and sadness are written on a giant poster outside Mandela's home in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Mandela fans leave tributes outside his former home in Houghton, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Crowds sing and chant outside Mandela's Houghton home in South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Crowds sing and dance outside Mandela's former home in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Mandela fans pose outside his home in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Mandela posters in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Mandela merchandise is flying off street corners in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Nomalady Zondo says black South Africans are still not economically free and must fight for equal rights.(Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Thabo Tobedi fashioned earrings from keyrings to honor his hero Mandiba who he says was responsible for the social welfare still clothing and feeding many of the nation's black South Africans. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Tourists have been visiting or posing by Mandela's house in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)
  • Crowds gather in Soweto, South Africa. (Hannah McNeish for VOA)

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Faith Cecelia Story from: Lusaka Zambia
December 10, 2013 3:40 AM
Nelson Mandela

Madiba
A man of Freedom, Democracy and Hope.
His inner core made of steel for his beloved Africa
His dignity preserved until the very end
The world speaks of him with honour
His truth lives inside his beloved family
His nation stands as one in remembrance
Of his legacy

I am not bound to win,
But I am bound to be true.
I am not bound to succeed
But I am bound to fight for change
For which I am prepared to die

For Freedom
Against Discrimination
For Human rights
Against Racism
For Peace
Against Poverty
For Reconciliation
Against Revenge
For Hope
Against Fear

Today, there is no beauty in sadness
No honour in suffering
No growth in fear
No relief in hate
We celebrate Madiba
Father of Africa
Faith Cecelia Story

by: sean from: florida
December 07, 2013 5:19 PM
RIP NELSON Mandela you tought alot for everyone ib world but now your in heaven a beautiful place where you will be with the lord

by: Pierre Parrish from: Atlanta,Ga
December 07, 2013 4:28 PM
Rest in Peace Father you will never be forgotten in my book live through me walakim salam

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More