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Remembering Nelson Mandela

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Remembering Nelson Mandela

Crowds gathered today to pay their respects to a man who touched many lives while also changing the world. According to CBS News, in spite of driving rain and cold temperatures, crowds of South Africans spontaneously broke out in song and dance around the FNB Stadium, chanted words of respect and adoration for the man whom many in the country revered as a father or grandfather figure. His nickname, Tata Madiba, was heard echoing from the jubilant crowds.

UMD also celebrated the life and legacy of Nelson Madiba Mandela today (December 10th) from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. in the Kirby Ballroom. Students, faculty, staff, and the Duluth and Northland communities were invited to come reflect on Mandela’s life, works, and contributions to the world.

How far reaching was Nelson Mandela’s influence and impact? Much closer than one might think.

Here on UMD’s campus and throughout the city of Duluth, Nelson Mandela’s example is treasured and valued. We wanted to share stories of those Nelson Mandela touched, and so below, you will find the personal accounts of Duluth community members, and UMD students and faculty courtesy of the Duluth News Tribune.


JirehIf not for Nelson Mandela, Jireh Mabamba probably would not be a student at the University of Minnesota – Duluth. He certainly would not have been able to attend a prestigious, formerly all-white high school in Durban, South Africa. And he may not even have survived beyond his childhood.

“I’m a refugee. I was in South Africa as a refugee,” Mabamba, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the evening of Thursday, December 5th, just after hearing of the former South African leader’s death.

A member of the UMD Fighting Penguins rugby team, Mabamba spoke to the News Tribune while traveling on the team bus through South Carolina. (The Fighting Penguins were headed to the USA Rugby National Championship Game for Division II which they won against Salisbury University.)

Born in 1994, a few months after Mandela’s election as the first black president of a democratic South Africa, Mabama said a jubliant hospital staff bestowed a nickname on the only baby boy.

“People were calling me Nelson Mandela,” he said, pointing to the moniker as an inspiration for life.

“In South Africa, there was a lot of xenophobia that was taking place,” he said of the taunting he endured as a refugee child. His response, he said, was, “I might a well just forgive them because Nelson Mandela had it worse and he managed to forgive.”

Retired judge Carol Person of Duluth was struck by Mandela’s model of forgiveness.

“My family and I traveled to Cape Town in 1999. We went to Robben Island and saw Mandela’s cell. We saw the quarry where he worked for 13 years. We met one of his fellow prisoners,” she said. “I will never forget this experience. Mandela transformed the world. He could have been full of hate. Instead, he was full of forgiveness.”

Emily JohnsonIn 1988, before Mandela’s release from prison, Emily Johnson of Duluth was studying abroad in Tanzania.

“I was active as a student at the University of Dar es Salaam in the campaign to end apartheid and free Mandela,” she said. “I came home in 1989 and was stunned when he was freed in 1990. I never thought I’d see the day, not in my lifetime. Things happened so fast, but it was the (African National Congress) and the resolve of the African people that accomplished this.”

Duluth NAACP president Claudie Washington recalled seeing Mandela at the organization’s 1993 national convention in Indianapolis, the year before Mandela was elected in South Africa.

“I was very impressed with him, obviously. I was up front but it looked like 50 feet or more between the audience and the stage,” Washington remarked on the leader’s rock-star status.

Washington said he particularly admired Mandela’s magnanimity in sharing power with his former oppressors.

“He didn’t want to go and punish the people who had done all these terrible things,” Washington said. “And he had the foresight to do what was necessary to move the government to majority rule.”

Longtime Duluth human rights activist Brooks Anderson counts Mandela among this three personal heroes.

“Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, would be the trinity I would point to. I’m just in awe of his life,” he said.

Anderson, who was imprisoned briefly in 2000 for protesting the US government-sponsored School for the Americas foreign military training camp, saidhe had no concept of being a prisoner on conscience for more than a generation.

“Having spent three months in prison, it’s hard for me to imagine 27 years was like. He must have had some sense of the role he would play.”

Mary CameronDuluth School Board member Mary Cameron also likens Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr.

“He fought to bring his country together,” she said, “just bridging that gap between black and white. He was a very strong person who held firm to thwat he felt was right.”

Mandela was a hero not only in Africa, but to the world, said Chang’aa Mweti, an associate professor in UMD’s education department and a native of Kenya.

“We Africans see him as a true statesman, and we want other leaders to emulate him,” he said, because of his attitude toward reconciliation. “He was jailed for 27 years. He came out of prison and he was willing to reconcile with the country and forgive. The forgiveness; that part makes him unique.”

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(Article written by Robin Washington and Jana Hollingsworth of the Duluth News Tribune / “Duluthians treasure Mandela’s example”)