Mandela: Franklin County residents reflect on legacy
“Nelson Mandela was a true leader, and a perfect example of someone who took action on the things he said.”
Photojournalist Terri Cappucci has been to South Africa nearly 20 times, and said the people she has met there had the utmost respect for Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95.
Cappucci saw first-hand the changes that Mandela brought to his country.
Jailed by the country’s white government for treason during apartheid, Mandela spent 27 years in prison. After his release in 1990, he negotiated with the government to end apartheid in 1993, and institute multiracial elections in 1994. He was elected president that year, and served for a single term.
Cappucci was in South Africa covering that landmark election some 19 years ago.
“There was a lot of joy, a lot of raw emotion,” she said. “People stood in line for three, sometimes four days to vote. Apartheid had just ended the year before, and it was an exciting time for the country.”
Since then, she’s been back several times, and said she’s seen the country become more and more integrated.
When Cappucci last went to South Africa, Mandela had been hospitalized for an illness. She said the peoples’ support of their former president was overwhelming.
“People were hanging posters that said ‘Pray for Mandela’ on their houses, telephone poles, everywhere,” she said. “He was absolutely loved by the people.”
“I think Nelson Mandela was the perfect role model for anyone that wants to be a leader,” said Cappucci. “He really lived his life according to the words that came out of his mouth. He wasn’t all talk.”
Cappucci briefly met Mandela during his presidency, though the exchange was little more than a hello and a handshake.
He was speaking at a South African university to an audience of 200 to 300 people, including Cappucci. Though she and others were lucky enough to be invited to the talk, several students gathered outside the hall, hoping to hear their leader’s words.
“A number of them had pushed their way through the doors, took off their shoes, and started singing the South African national anthem and dancing,” said Cappucci.
Rather than have them shown out by security, the president joined them.
“Mandela was standing on stage, and he got down and danced and sang with them,” she said. “It moved me to tears; it was true respect (for his citizens).”
Another Franklin County woman has a similar memory.
Eveline MacDougall, director of the Amandla Chorus, met Mandela in June of 1990, months after his release from prison. Her group, which sang South African songs and fought apartheid, was invited to sing in Boston at an event Mandela attended.
Her group went on late in the show, and Mandela started to leave before they’d sang.
“While he was leaving in his limo, I turned to the group and said ‘get over here quick and lets sing something.’ So, we started to sing the South African anthem.”
The limo screeched to a halt.
“The doors flew open, and Mandela came toward us with a glowing smile, his fist raised to the air, and he joined in on the song,” she remembered. “He was such a man of the people that, even though he must have had a very long day, when he heard us singing the anthem, he just had to join us.”
MacDougall said she has several South African friends, and recalled watching the news of Mandela’s release with them when they were in college.
“They were all watching the TV, while I was watching them,” she said. She knew the news footage would be taped and replayed, but the joy on her friends’ faces wouldn’t be recorded.
“It was humbling. For the people that grew up under apartheid, Mandela was something between a grandfather and a god. I’ve never felt that way about a U.S. statesman or stateswoman.”
MacDougall grew up reading about Mandela and the horrors of apartheid, and said she still looks to the prisoner-cum-president for inspiration.
“I realize how much of my hope for this world is tied to Mandela as a person,” she said. “No one person will ever embody all the world’s struggles for justice, but if there was, for me, it would be Mandela.”