December 6, 2013

South Africans mourn, celebrate Mandela

The loss of the man who many consider the father of South Africa brought deep grief, but residents also celebrated his many momentous achievements.

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People light a candle for former president Nelson Mandela on hearing of his death, outside his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013.

AP Photo/Denis Farrell

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Dijon Anderson of Bowie, Md., and his son Keaton, 10, visit the statue of Nelson Mandela at the South African Embassy in Washington, which is currently under renovation, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Mandela, former President of South Africa and anti-apartheid icon, died earlier Thursday at 95.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

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“For 23 years, I walked a path with this man since he was released,” said Sonja Pocock, a white 46-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative. “I’m from the old regime. He’s like my grandfather. He is my grandfather.”

The blonde sales executive burst into tears.

Krezaan Schoeman, a 38-year-old Afrikaner colleague of Pocock’s, spoke as her friend went to arrange some red flowers she had laid at the statue’s feet. It was past midnight and the square, ringed by restaurants with Christmas lights arrayed on fake trees casting a silvery glow, was mostly empty.

“I admired him. He stood for something, for freedom and equality,” Schoeman said. “Even if some say he was a terrorist, he stood for his beliefs. Everybody’s got a right to life. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white. That’s what he stood for. And for forgiveness.”

Standing nearby with a friend, Valentino More, a black 24-year-old student, said he had heard of Mandela’s death on Twitter, then had rushed home to see Zuma make the announcement. He then came to Mandela Square, needing to pay tribute.

“It came as a shock,” More said. “It’s a big day, actually, because our father just passed.”

Big gatherings of mourners were expected in coming days as the country prepares a formal farewell for a man who helped guide the country from racial conflict to all-race elections in 1994.

“He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to emphasize with others,” retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement. “He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.”

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, said he and Mandela first met each other in 1989 and concluded they could do business with each other as the country embarked on its long-awaited transition to democratic rule.

“Although we were political opponents — and although our relationship was often stormy — we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process,” de Klerk said in a statement.

Human rights advocate George Bizos told eNCA television that Mandela, a longtime friend, never wavered in his dedication to non-racial and democratic ideals.

“He was larger than life,” Bizos said. “We will not find another like him.”

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A monument to former president of South South Africa Nelson Mandela stands in Piedmont Park, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Atlanta. Mandela, the first black South African to hold the office, has died at age 95.

AP Photo/David Goldman


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