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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Mandela honored, mourned across L.I.
(Page 3 of 4)

“Like Mahtma Gandhi and Dr. King, and after that we have Nelson Mandela,” Syed said. “And now I don’t know how long it will take to have another … leader like that. These leaders are born in centuries.”

Hempstead attorney Fred Brewington said Mandela’s pursuit of civil rights for all inspired his own career.

“While we mourn his passing, we must celebrate the gift that he was to world affairs — changing a vicious cycle of segregation and apartheid into a free and united country shows what a person engaged in the struggle for justice can achieve,” Brewington said.

Dr. Grant Saff, a white South African who grew up just four miles east of Robben Island in Cape Town and is today a geography professor and chairman of the Department of Global Studies and Geography at Hofstra University, recalled a euphoric “spirit of change” that pervaded South Africa at the time of Mandela’s release from prison.

“It really was a lifting of a mystery curtain when he emerged [from prison in 1990] and he did all the right things,” Saff said. It was the first time he and many other South Africans had seen Mandela’s face — newspapers nationwide had been prohibited from publishing his image for nearly 30 years.

Saff, a student studying at the University of Cape Town in the 1980s, noted how during Mandela’s imprisonment his campus turned into a “polarizing environment,” in which classmates were arrested for mounting anti-white administration demonstrations.

“It was the most depressing time in South African history,” Saff said, “but it was also a time of enormous energy and organization in society.”

In judging Mandela’s historical importance, Saff said people must remember there were two sides to his legacy: he was a symbolic figure who lifted his people out of racial oppression, but he also was a flawed human being who was not always successful when it came to governing. Nevertheless, Saff gave greater weight to the first legacy.

“[Mandela] was a very seminal figure because he was able to hold it together,” Saff said. “He was part of a generation which put his struggle and need for democracy ahead of their own enrichment and personal interest.”

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