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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs