South Africans living in Georgia are sharing the world's grief as they remember the life of Nelson Mandela. Mandela wasn't only a hero to South Africa's black residents. White South Africans praise Mandela for reconciling the country after years of bloody apartheid. One woman says the whites in South Africa initially feared for their lives when the balance of power shifted, but soon realized Mandela's goal was to unite the country, not further divide it.
“Because of the years of oppression that was enacted on the black population, white people were scared.”
68 year-old Barbara Jacobs moved from Johannesburg to Sandy Springs three years ago. As a young woman in the 1970’s, she worked to help black South Africans get legal documents they were required to carry during apartheid. Jacobs says whites like herself were afraid the country would implode when apartheid ended in 1994.
“Because of the years of oppression that were enacted on the black population, white people were scared,” said Jacobs. “It was a miracle that the transition to democratic country was peaceful.”
Barbara Jacobs has two portraits of Nelson Mandela in her home. The color portrait (L) is a painting by Steve Penley, a U.S. artist best known for his work with Coca Cola. Jacobs' mother Pauline Singer drew the charcoal sketch (R) of Mandela in 1996. The white population only knew Mandela’s African National Congress as a terrorist organization. 40-year-old Jason Guggenheim is a management consultant in Atlanta. He moved to the U.S. in 2003. When he was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Guggenheim says the white population only knew Mandela’s African National Congress as a terrorist organization. He says they didn’t know Mandela at all, because he was silenced in prison. “If you’re living in a country where there’s suppression and no freedom of press and freedom of speech, you’re sort of led to believe what the state and the white press and the white police force want you to believe about so-called enemies of the state,” said Guggenheim. Guggenheim says he was in law school in Johannesburg as the country struggled to form a democracy. He says that’s when it became clear to him what a great man Nelson Mandela was. Whites in South Africa went from fear, to hope. Robert Roome is operations manager for Cape Food and Beverage, a South African import business in Atlanta. He says when Mandela became President, whites in South Africa went from fear to hope. Robert Roome inside of Cape Food and Beverage “You were looking at a lot of political unrest. There was bomb blasts, and terror activities and things like that. And that all kind of changed. And suddenly we were faced you know with this guy who wasn’t out there to take us apart, he was trying to bring us all together. And that was amazing.” Roome says Mandela was able to lead the country to a place of reconciliation. He believes the country will remain on that path, even though Mandela is no longer there. Roome made a memorial for Mandela on the wall in his shop. "All the principles which he stood for, we kind of see that going away at the moment." Dylan O'Leary came to the US on a golf scholarship. The 23-year-old old fashion major graduated last month from the Savannah College of Art and Design. "You had this man who had been imprisoned for 27 years," O'Leary says. "And he comes out of prison and he's like, 'No, you know, it's okay.' That's basically how he stands apart to everybody else. And I think people need to start looking at that." He laments not just the loss of the man but also his ideas. "He was a great liberator and a statesman," O'Leary says. "And all the principles which he stood for, we kind of see that going away at the moment, to be honest." "Today, he's really viewed as a saint," Johnny DeBeers came to the US in 1985, a tumultuous time in the anti-Apartheid struggle. His sandwich shop, Zunzi's, in Savannah's Historic District has a South African flag out front and serves a few dishes of his native country. He remembers Mandela's grace and forbearance toward his oppressors. "Today, he's really viewed as a saint," DeBeers says. "There's really no other word for it. I mean, think about it. He's going to be surely missed, forever." The former president and humanitarian is set to be buried a week from Sunday.