Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 – Dec. 5, 2013) was a vision to not only the people of his home country, South Africa, but to the entire world. He lived a long life of 95 years and changed the lives of millions during it.
He was a man, as noted by many including Staples High School’s Sam Kann ’16, known for his “incredible capacity for forgiveness.” For many Westport residents, such as Kann, the inspiration of Nelson Mandela hits incredibly close to home, despite living thousands of miles away.
A few students currently attending Staples High School have direct connections to South Africa, and some, even Mandela himself. Julia Rakin ’16’s father was actually born in South Africa, and both his parents lived there their entire lives. She was brought up learning the impact he has caused for the greater good of the world and what an influential man he was.
“From when I was little, I always knew about him and who he was because he was so important to my dad,” Rakin said.
When the Rakin family first heard the news of Mandela’s death, they immediately picked up their phone to call their grandparents. While they now live in Israel, both grandparents are still strongly connected to their South African home and frequently visit.
“He was the person that changed the way their whole lives had been and the lives of my dad and his sister,” Rakin said. “They were definitely more impacted by his death than other people.
Rakin’s grandfather, Wolf Rakin, actually had the opportunity to meet Mandela while living in South Africa. He owned a store during the time that Mandela had just became president. He entered the store with two security guards, closed off the door to any other customers and shook hands with Wolf. He was even down-to-earth enough to take pictures with all the employees, including Wolf himself.
Kann has a similar connection. Her mom lived in South Africa until she came to America to marry her husband. When she heard of Mandela’s passing, Kann immediately rushed home to be with her family to watch the news. Her mother, devastated by the shock, broke down into tears. “He was a very important figure to her,” Kann said.
In addition to her mother’s connection to Mandela, Kann’s aunt currently lives in Zimbabwe and noted how there is “an incredible feeling of unity across the country” because of Mandela’s presence.
Although many expatriates of South Africa currently living in the United States consider themselves Americans, there is still a certain devotion to the place they will remember growing up in. Westport resident James Benjamin, father of Ale Benjamin ‘15 and Nikolas Benjamin ‘17, lived in South Africa until he was 21. He was raised in the police state that was apartheid and although some information about Mandela was banned at the time, he was still appreciated by all South African people, white and black alike.
“I regard myself as an American, but I still have strong ties to South Africa and my history there,” Benjamin said. “There is a strong enough ex-South African community in Westport that some of those ties extend to the whole community.”
While Nelson Mandela changed the entire world, those from South Africa will always feel a personal connection to him and how he has forever affected their past, present, and even future.
“Somehow, he’s always been there in the distance,” Kann said.