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South Africans in Community Mourn Death of Human Rights Icon Nelson Mandela

by on December 05, 2013 9:22 PM

South Africans living in State College reacted to the passing of Nelson Mandela through prepared statements issued to Thursday night.

Tracy G. Beckett, managing director and fellows coordinator with the Africana Research Center at Penn State, issued the following words on behalf of her family.

"It's with a heavy and sad heart that we as South Africans mourn the loss of President Mandela today, but I have a deep sense of gratitude that the world we live in now is a better place because of him.

"Not only has a family lost a father, but a country has lost a hero and a formidable leader, activist and icon. He has shaped South Africa and touched the hearts of millions around the globe. His teachings, values and principles are embraced by all, and through reconciliation he has made an indelible impact, as a world leader. He has taught us that there is a peaceful way of moving forward.

"One of the truly brightest lights in this world has gone out, but his legacy and inspiration will live on forever.

"Hamba Kahle Madiba. Aluta Continua. (The struggle continues.)"

Mandela died Thursday after a lengthy illness. He was 95. Mandela spent 27 years in a South African prison before becoming the nation's president. After leaving office he continued to promote human rights and world peace. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Lovalerie King, director of Penn State's Africana Research Center, said in a statement, "President Mandela has joined the ancestors. A true statesman who was able to show us all what it means to forgive."

Beckett and her husband, Ian Theunis, were born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa and lived and experienced apartheid from the 1970s until 1994.

"We lived through segregation (medical, education, racial, beaches, benches, bathrooms, etc.), separate education system for blacks and whites, until the end of apartheid when (as black South Africans) we were able to vote for the first time," Beckett said. "The 1994 elections opened many doors to people of all color and class (rainbow nation as South Africa is called) and was significant in my life as I became the first member in my family to attend university."

Beckett attended the oldest residential university of South Africa, the University of Cape Town in January 1995, one of the universities that were reserved for whites under apartheid. There she was able to experience a significant desegregation in the university's student body post apartheid.

She then had the opportunity to work with Neville Alexander as a researcher while working at PRAESA, the project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa, while she pursued a master's degree also at the University of Cape Town.

"He (Alexander) was imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island from 1964-1974 for his political activism and maintained contact with Mandela after the end of apartheid," Beckett said. "During my time with Neville, 1998-2005, he did pioneering work in the field of language policy and planning in South Africa via several organizations such as PRAESA, LANGTAG and the National Language Project and was very influential in respect of language policy development with various government departments."

Beckett came to the United States in August 2005 to pursue a doctorate in applied linguistics at Penn State and is currently employed as the managing director of Penn State's Africana Research University.

Gabeba Baderoon, an assistant professor for women's studies and African studies at Penn State, grew up in Cape Town, the city where Mandela was imprisoned. In an e-mail Thursday night, Baderoon shared the impact Mandela had on her life.

"During the 1980s when I was coming to political consciousness, Nelson Mandela was someone whose name we could only whisper. His image was banned by the apartheid government. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1962. He was meant to be invisible and forgotten but of course he never was.

"I remember the very first public photograph I saw of him in 1989. A full-length color photo, it covered almost the whole front page of the Cape Argus newspaper. I stared at it, at the man who had been erased from the national consciousness except in the dream of liberation from oppression which he represented, which meant that he was profoundly present even when locked away.

"When he came out, not only did he live his life as an exemplar of the difficult idea of reconciliation, but he took difficult stances within his own political party, including about its HIV policy. Yet he also stumbled, not only personally, in the cost of politics in his intimate life, but politically.

"In all, though, what a consistently magnificent contribution he made to his country, and to Africa and to the world's conception of justice.

"What will be his legacy? I think his honesty, his capacity for loyalty yet also his ability to learn from those with whom he disagreed, like his fellow Robben Island detainee Neville Alexander, the radical political vision that made him initiate talks with the enemy, and his lack of materialism. He had a soul. He lived up to our dream of him."

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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