Gainesville residents Friday shared their thoughts and respect for Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s international icon who died Thursday at age 95.
“I think it’s a huge loss,” said Gainesville resident Sandra Jones. “We were lucky he was with us as long as he was.”
Mandela became one of the world’s most beloved statesmen and a force of the 20th century when he emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa.
“He was able to end the apartheid — he was an incredible person,” said 21-year-old Devan Steel. “It’s a loss of a good man.”
Gnimbin Ouattara, an assistant professor of History and International Studies at Brenau University, said Mandela’s capacity to forgive was one of his defining traits.
“That’s Nelson Mandela’s personal wisdom — he was able to forgive,” he said. “I’ve compared it to a DNA exoneration. Some say they are bitter, some say (they) have no bitterness, but it takes a certain character to forgive and cohabitate with someone who oppressed you in the past.”
Mandela was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for leading a campaign of sabotage against the government. After he was freed he became the nation’s first black president, and strove to unite the country.
“The economic power was still in the hands of the white minority, and the entire black majority, more than 10 to 1, the majority of all of these people were crying for vengeance,” Ouattara said. “Nelson Mandela took it upon himself to say ‘No, we are not going to be vengeful. We are going to be a Rainbow Nation.’ That Rainbow Nation has become his signature and the reason he is so loved.”
At least three American presidents will travel to South Africa to attend memorial services for Mandela.
The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama would travel to South Africa next week to pay their respects. They will be joined on Air Force One by former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush, who “gratefully accepted” the invitation from the Obamas, a Bush spokesman said.
A memorial service for Mandela will be held Tuesday at a stadium in Johannesburg, followed by a smaller funeral on Dec. 15 in Mandela’s hometown.
Former President Bill Clinton said he also planned to travel to South Africa, along with his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was unclear whether the Clintons would also fly on Air Force One.
Outtara said Mandela cited an “African wisdom” that inspired his way thinking.
“He cited an African wisdom called ‘Ubuntu.’ It literally means ‘humanness’ — you have to see that person’s humanity,” Outtara said. “That is, in a time of conflict, you still have to recognize the other person as a human being who needs your help as well.”
Mandela was sympathetic to the reality that oppression had been ingrained in a colonial mindset, which reassured people it was right.
“Mandela said that they too were needing to be freed — freed from a certain way of thinking. They were just human beings like everyone else,” Ouattara said.
Outtara pondered Mandela’s legacy with regard to the philosophy.
“As to his legacy? That’s the big unknown. Ubuntu is an African wisdom, there are not many people in the modern Africa who go by that,” he said.
Ouattara said emotions are running high, but the sadness is mingled with a sense of celebration of Mandela’s life.
“The fact that he died at 95, a lot people are very much comfortable with his idea — he died of old age,” he said. “People are celebrating; people are dancing; people are crying. But it’s not too much crying — it’s more a celebration.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report