By Yadira Betances
---- — When former Andover resident Temba Maqubela learned of Nelson Mandela’s death on Thursday, the former black South African resident went home and changed into a black and gold shirt.
“People asked me if I was mourning because of the black clothing, but I said no because there was gold in it,” said the former dean of faculty and assistant head for academics at Phillips Academy in Andover. “I thought of looking at his passing as a celebration of his life despite the sadness you feel. Yes there is sadness, but mourning will come in phases with tears of joy and sadness.”
Maqubela wanted to celebrate Mandela, a family frien, so he took his grandmother’s memoirs, “Remembrances” off the shelf, and reread the two letters tucked inside from Mandela, thanking her for visiting him in prison.
Maqubela, now the headmaster at the prestigious Groton School, shared the letters with several of his students and sang songs about Mandela yesterday.
It was one of the several ways locals paid tribute to Mandela, the former president of South Africa who spent 27 years in prison because of his work to end apartheid in that country. Mandela died Thursday at 95 due to complications from pneumonia.
Stephen Russell, a professor of history and government at Northern Essex Community College, showed students a video clip about Mandela.
“It got us thinking about those days when he changed the country and showed what could be done by one person,” Russell said.
Russell admired Mandela’s sense of reconciliation after spending 27 years for his political beliefs.
“His willingness to talk to his adversaries and work with them was truly remarkable,” Russell said. “That’s really leadership — to go to those that kept you in jail and work with them.”
Russell said Mandela will be known as the founding father of the new South Africa, much like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the U.S.
Eric Bruade of Andover, a former white South African resident, agrees.
“He is going to be remembered in the same stature and scope as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King — all rolled into one,” said the computer science professor at Boston University. “As far as the world is concerned, he is one of the great leaders of the 20th century.”
Braude left South Africa in 1966 at age 21.
“I did not want to raise a family there because I thought the (political) system was wrong,” he said.
Maqubela fled the country in the 1980s, after being imprisoned. He went into exile, living throughout Africa before moving to New York in 1986 with his wife and 10-month son. They lived in a homeless shelter before getting on their feet.
“It was critical for me to draw inspiration from what Mandela had endured in prison and remind myself that we shall overcome,” he said. “If you arm yourself with the weapon of education instead of weapons of mass destruction, everything is possible.”
Braude also found Mandela to be an inspirational leader.
“Without Mandela, the country would have gone to all radical directions. He saved the country and many, many lives,” he said.
While he knew Mandela’s death was expected because he had been ill, Bruade said South Africa and the world lost a great leader.
“I wish I’d met him because of his ability to reconcile after being treated in such a brutal and horrible matter. After his own people acted with justifiable anger, he was able to deal with that and bring them around,” he said.
Maqubela and Russell have different opinions as to what gave Mandela the strength and courage to fight against apartheid.
Maqubela thinks it had to do with Mandela’s humble beginnings in a village without electricity and running water.
“He was loved by everyone in his village and he absorbed that love and energy. His character was molded by ordinary people who taught him to be caring and maintain a common touch,” Maqubela said.
Russell credits Mandela’s discipline as a source of leadership.
“He knew how to channel his anger into constructive ways. Even though he was in prison, his mind was free. He knew that no one could imprison his mind,” Russell said.
Maqubela said Mandela’s love for all humanity was incomparable.
“The man had a capacity to love that is very rare; it’s almost spiritual,” he said. “He was the embodiment of love of enemies, friends and family.”
Maqubela said Mandela will be remembered as “South Africa’s greatest son and leader.”
“Nelson Mandela’s spirit will never die in South Africa. This is a very good moment because the country is coming together around his ideals that can sustain them for hundreds of years,” Maqubela said.