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Nelson Mandela Made 'This World A Better Place,' Dallas' Helen Giddings Says

Nelson Mandela died Thursday. He was 95.

Update, 12:09 p.m. Wednesday: President Obama eulogized Nelson Mandela Tuesday at his memorial service in Johannesburg.

Helen Giddings, a state representative from Dallas, met with Mandela half a dozen times on her many trips to South Africa. Giddings is South Africa’s Honorary Consul to Texas.

She wasn’t able to get to Johannesburg in time for the service, but she talked with KERA about Mandela’s leadership and capacity for love.

Giddings met Mandela for the first time in 1995 and in the years since got to know him well. He even gave her a replica of the Congressional Medal of Honor he was awarded.

“I should be joyful and happy as the people in South Africa are that we had Nelson Mandela for 95 years and that he gave 67 years of his life to public service,” Giddings told KERA in an interview. “And that he was able to reach outside of himself in working to make this world a better place.”

Original post, Thurs. Dec. 5: Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, died Thursday. He was 95.

Tonight at 7, KERA 90.1 FM will air a special documentary “Mandela: An Audio History” that weaves together an unprecedented collection of archival sound materials documenting Mandela’s life story and the struggle against apartheid.

The program includes a rare recording of the 1964 trial that resulted in Mandela's life sentence, and a visit between Mandela and his wife, Winnie, secretly recorded by a prison guard.

NPR reports on his death:

Nelson Mandela, who was born in a country that viewed him as a second-class citizen, died Thursday as one of the most respected statesmen in the world. President Jacob Zuma announced the death in a televised speech. From his childhood as a herd boy, Mandela went on to lead the African National Congress' struggle against the racially oppressive, apartheid regime of South Africa. For his efforts, he spent 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner. In 1994, after Mandela was elected president in South Africa's first democratic elections, Archbishop Desmond Tutu shook with elation as he welcomed Mandela to a rally in Cape Town. "One man inspires us all. One man inspires the whole world," Tutu said at the time. "Ladies and gentlemen, friends, fellow South Africans, welcome our brand new state president — out of the box: Nelson Mandela."

Reflecting on 1993 visit

Earlier this year, Lee Cullum, the host of KERA-TV’s CEO, offered her thoughts about meeting Mandela in 1993:

Nelson Mandela, 1993. That was the year I sat next to him at lunch in Johannesburg, with a group of editors traveling in South Africa. We had been invited to a casual Sunday barbecue by a British newsman and his wife, long and committed residents of that fated nation.  Beef was grilling in the backyard when the great man arrived, without fanfare - tall, straight, at ease and wearing a Harvard sweatshirt. I look now at photos of the two of us, and I see in him an entrancing figure, deeply wise, experienced to a degree so searing it had led him all the way back to a kind of knowing innocence, with nothing left that could disrupt his hard-won equilibrium. There was a ring on his left hand that escaped my notice all those years ago - a black stone, perhaps onyx or quartz, set in what appears to be gold. … Nelson Mandela had two women looking after him that Sunday at lunch, one black, one white. They fixed him a plate sparsely occupied by two tiny new potatoes and a little meat. They also admonished us at his table to stop heaping questions on Mr. Mandela and let him eat. Of course we did, with no regrets. His silence had an eloquence of its own. No words were necessary. It was Mandela’s presence that impressed, and made him unforgettable.

Tributes are pouring in

Former President George W. Bush issued this statement:

“Laura and I join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.  President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time.  He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example.  This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever.  Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela’s family and to the citizens of the nation he loved.”

State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, reflected on meeting Mandela. Here’s part of her statement:

“Arguably the world's greatest moral leader, his contributions to freedom and equality across our world are countless. He showed us what true leadership and compassion is, and its potential to change the world.

“I will forever treasure the privilege of spending time with him. My first meeting with Mr. Mandela in 1995 was a unique experience that was an absolute realization that I was standing in the presence of greatness. Later meetings were just as inspirational and I continued to be in awe of both his charisma and his humility.

“In response to his infamous 27 years of imprisonment he showed the world a sermon stressing that only love can conquer hate. Mr. Mandela's refusal to hate and his lack of bitterness in the face of bigotry and hatred continue to stand as an example for the world to follow.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said:  “Through his valiant struggle against the injustices of apartheid, Nelson Mandela became a symbol of what one person can do to change the world. His life and legacy will remain an inspiration to people everywhere who believe in the power of freedom to create stronger nations, and forge a better world for future generations. Today, the prayers of Texans are with Mandela’s family, his friends, and the people of South Africa.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, released this statement: "Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe. He stood firm for decades on the principle that until all South Africans enjoyed equal liberties he would not leave prison himself, declaring in his autobiography, 'Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.' Because of his epic fight against injustice, an entire nation is now free. We mourn his loss and offer our condolences to his family and the people of South Africa."

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said: “Nelson Mandela united both his country and the world around the basic dignity owed to every human being.  His unwavering commitment to justice and equality remains a model for each of us.  As we mourn this great leader, let us also celebrate his life and work to carry on his legacy.”

Rare recordings of Mandela

In 2004, All Things Considered aired a five-part series on South Africans' struggle against apartheid through rare sound recordings of Mandela, as well as those who fought with and against him. Hear that special report.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.