South Africans Mourn Loss Of 'Father' Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was an inspirational figure around the world for decades. Host Michel Martin talks with Ferial Haffajee, editor at City Press in Johannesburg, about the immediate reactions from South Africans to Mandela's passing.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are going to devote today's program to remembering the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, whose influence, as you surely know, extended far beyond his home country. He died yesterday at the age of 95 after a long illness. He spent much of the summer in the hospital.

And during that time, it became only more clear how much Mandela, or Madiba, his clan name used with fondness, was revered as one of the world's most respected statesman and a human rights icon. Mandela was jailed for 27 years under South African's apartheid regime, often under extremely harsh conditions. Yet, he emerged as an advocate for peace and racial reconciliation. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In 1994, he was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa, also the first democratically elected.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

NELSON MANDELA: We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well - that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.

MARTIN: This hour we will be talking about what Mandela meant to the world. We'll hear from those who were inspired by him, including the current president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, and activists here in the U.S. like the Global Grind's Michael Skolnik. But first, we go to South Africa for a reaction. Ferial Haffajee is an editor at City Press, a popular national paper in that country. And she's with us by phone from Johannesburg. Ferial, welcome back to the program. And if it's appropriate, may I say I'm sorry for your loss.

FERIAL HAFFAJEE: Thank you very much, Michel. It really has been a moment when the world stopped and I think we reeled for a little bit last night.

MARTIN: Does it feel as though you've lost a member of your family?

HAFFAJEE: Absolutely. I've just finished my column for this week and in trying to process my feelings, I thought that - actually I felt quite similar to the time when my dad died, you know, a little bit discombobulated, like you don't quite know, and that the shift is quite tectonic.

MARTIN: But he had been ill for some time, Madiba was, was there - as near as you can tell - and obviously South Africa's a very big country - many, many reactions there - he'd been ill for some time, so was there still sense of shock? Or are there other feelings, like perhaps relief that he's no longer suffering?

HAFFAJEE: Look, we've been brought to the brink many times, and I'm just sitting here looking at the graphic, which we've called his last struggle, and from January 2011 he's been in hospital on several occasions. I think we've calculated about 8 times. So yes, I do feel like we've come to the precipice, to the brink, many, many times. But honestly, when you heard President Zuma saying those final words, it was still a wrench, if not a shock. Is it a relief? I think most people have come around to that, like somebody was saying earlier. There's almost no of - none of the gone too soon and we wish he wasn't because I think most of us know that he is at peace now.

MARTIN: Can we turn now to what you hope his legacy will be? I mean, in your piece for City Press last night you wrote, if Mandela embodies what we are as a young, fragile and often fractious nation, will we lose even our nascent sense of ourselves when he goes? What are your thoughts about that now?

HAFFAJEE: We've been talking with my colleagues a lot and we are taught Christian, like, is it really only Nelson Mandela who joins us as a people? How far is our nonracial project of - cutting across these age-old boundaries, racial divisions, of our apartheid? Are we more than just the embodiment of one man? Has it really sunk in? And I certainly hope - I am more hopeful than perhaps some of my colleagues may be. I think that he extracted himself from public life in 1999, that was a long time ago.

Sometimes we've muddled on and sometimes we've done quite spectacularly - like during the soccer World Cup in 2010. I do think that what you're going to see in our country over the next 10 days of mourning is a period of deep reflection. And I do hope that wisdom and leadership comes from that.

MARTIN: Do you see others - and I understand that many people don't like this question - but often at a time like this we turn to see who has - is there someone who most embodies the style of leadership that you associate with Mandela? Who would you call to mind? Is there someone that comes to mind?

HAFFAJEE: You know, I don't think he's ever been on your show but there's the cartoonist, Zapiro. And he keeps drawing a story of devolution not evolution in the ANC, where he feels that the leadership who've taken over after Mandela just don't meet the measure of the man. What I've noticed is we still have that generation, many of them passing on now, but many of them still alive - Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel, Ahmed Kathrada.

Many of the veterans who are still being - who are still the moral voice of our society. I think that you see in many organizations, in many of the new political parties that will contest the election next year, certainly people who take his legacy to heart. Certainly people who have come through the anti-apartheid struggle, the brutal liberation struggle, who still do embody that. I don't think that it resides in any one, two, or three people I can tell you about. But I do think we need young and hopeful leaders, people who I have hope in coming up.

MARTIN: Ferial Haffajee is editor at City Press in Johannesburg. She joined us from her office there. Ferial, thank you so much for speaking with us.

HAFFAJEE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Once again, we're very sorry.

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