Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 6, 2013

Yukoners share memories of global icon

Yukoners are joining the rest of the world in mourning the death and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela as they reflect on the impact he’s had on their own lives.

By Stephanie Waddell on December 6, 2013 at 5:09 pm


Photo by Whitehorse Star

Andre Roothman

Yukoners are joining the rest of the world in mourning the death and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela as they reflect on the impact he’s had on their own lives.

Local lawyer Andre Roothman had the honour of meeting the man who spent more than 26 years in prison in his fight against the apartheid system in South Africa before being released in 1990 and going on to be the country’s first black president in 1994.

He is credited by many for bringing a peaceful end to the apartheid system.

It was in the early 1990s that Roothman met him after he was freed and before he was elected president for one term.

“It was still a time of political turmoil,” Roothman said this morning, recalling the talk Mandela had with a group of lawyers investigating political murders in the country.

It was impossible not to be impressed with Mandela, who, Roothman argued, had many qualities everyone strives for, but aren’t always easy to come by.

“He always tried to see the good in other people,” Roothman said, noting that Mandela didn’t say anything bad about his political opponents nor even those who jailed him in 1964.

Politicians, including Canadian lawmakers, he continued, could learn much from Mandela “because he was a statesman first.”

Mandela, he noted, focused on the needs of his country over the politics.

Mandela’s physical presence also left an impression on Roothman after they met.

“He had strong, big hands,” he said, recalling too Mandela’s friendly smile which especially lit up in the presence of children.

“He absolutely loved and adored children.”

Mandela was an exceptional person, Roothman stressed, “one in a million.”

And it was impossible not to be influenced by him.

Both Roothman and his partner, Susan, have become involved in a number of cases because of the “sense of justice” they learned from Mandela’s teachings.

There are times, Roothman said, that you just have to take action because it’s the right thing to do, and Mandela provided that example many times over the years.

Roothman is hoping the younger generation – including his and Susan’s daughter – will learn much from Mandela’s life.

Roothman was on his way home last night when he learned of Mandela’s death.

“We’d been expecting it,” he said, noting the 95-year-old global icon had been sick for several months, but stressing he was saddened by the news.

Last night, he spent time looking at old books and reviewing a number of Mandela’s quotes as he remembers a man he had hoped his daughter would someday meet.

While that day will not come, Roothman said he hopes Mandela’s life will have an impact on his daughter.

He has spent a lot of time telling her about the man who’s had a major impact on his own life and career.

Therese Kanya is another Whitehorse resident who comes from South Africa.

This morning, she reflected on his influence on her home country in a statement.

“A great hero joins a line of African leaders who have passed on,” she wrote. “Mandela was a unifying force in a country emerging from the brutality of apartheid.

“He sacrificed his own ‘freedom’ after the Rivonia trial; spending a great part of his life cast away on Robben Island to gain freedom for all, a just system that respects all individuals regardless of colour, race, sex or belief as stipulated in the ANC (African National Conference) freedom charter.”

Kanya recalled Mandela’s early life, noting he was born in Transkei to a Xhosa chief.

After he left home to find work in Transvaal, he joined the non-violent African National Congress (ANC), which was founded by individuals like Nobel laureate Chief Albert Luthuli and Dr. John Dube.

Mandela would go on to be instrumental in forming the military wing of the ANC – known as Umkhonto wesizwe or the “spear of the nation” – “when the cries of the oppressed masses was falling on deaf ears,” Kanya wrote.

“Throughout the hardships we South Africans faced at home and in exile, our eyes would turn to our heroes languishing in Robben Island and jails in the motherland. The defiant voices of our leaders became our guiding light.

“In my humble opinion, Mandela, yes, he had faults like everyone else, but he has earned a position among the great leaders not only of the motherland but of the whole world.

“Let all peace-loving people stand proud, a great hero has passed on, his memory will live forever.

“Lala ngoxolo qhawe lamaqhawe uyibekile induku ebandla uyindoda emadodeni (Rest in peace, great hero).”

See cartoon, p. 14; related coverage in today’s national and international news sections.

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