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Aggie Professor Reflects on Mandela's Presidency as Former Resident

By: Natasha Sweatte Email
By: Natasha Sweatte Email

South Africa mourns the death of a former president who changed history forever. Nelson Mandela fought against racism and was even imprisoned for his efforts. He died Thursday at the age of 95.

"Nelson Mandela is the most revered figure in that nation," said Darryl de Ruiter, a Texas A&M Professor of Anthropology, who lived in Johannesburg while he obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Witwatersrand. "He's certainly the most revered figure in African politics and in the history of civilization that's widely regarded nationwide, continent wide and worldwide," he said.

The former South African President is greatly remembered for spending 27 years in prison as he fought against apartheid, South Africa's system of legalized racism.

After being released in 1990, he became South Africa's first black president four years later. Mandela's message of forgiveness seems to resonate with people on a global level.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison," Mandela said.

Mandela didn't just campaign on that promise; locals said he truly lived it.

"The biggest difference we saw when Mandela came into power was there was a lot of concern amongst certain members of that population that he would react against the oppression that he experienced and he didn't. What he did was include everybody; everybody was a part of South Africa, white, black, it didn't matter," said de Ruiter.

"You'd think after all those years of imprisonment there would be some bitterness in there absolutely wasn't; he was an engaging, open and inclusive person who led by example rather than leading by authority," de Ruiter explained.

Mandela's health began to deteriorate as he was hospitalized over the summer, battling a recurring lung infection.

In remembrance of Mandela, President Obama has ordered that all flags be flown at half-staff until his funeral on Tuesday.

Press Secretary Jay Carney announced Friday President Obama and the first lady will attend Mandela's funeral next week.

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