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December 10, 2013

Oklahoma State professor saw Mandela change South Africa

STILLWATER, Okla. — World leaders and nearly 100,000 mourners are expected to honor Nelson Mandela Tuesday in a soccer stadium in Soweto neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa.

President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle Obama will attend Tuesday’s ceremony. Former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also will attend.

Mandela died Dec. 5. He was 95.

The director of Oklahoma State University’s School of Media and Strategic Communications, Derina Holtzhausen, watched Mandela’s rainbow sweep across South Africa.

She is a native of South Africa. She came to the United States in 1997 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008.

She spent four weeks in South Africa last summer when Mandela was hospitalized with a lung infection.

“He was very ill,” Holtzhausen said. “It (his death) could've come at anytime.”

Holtzhausen watched as Mandela worked to unite South African and heal the scars caused by apartheid.

“It's incredibly exciting to live through a time like that,” Holtzhausen said.

Mandela spent 27 hears in prison — 18 on Robben Island — for his defiance of white minority rule in South Africa. He went from militant freedom fighter, to prisoner, to a unifying figure, to president and elder statesman.

He served one term as South Africa’s president, from 1994 to 1999. Holtzhausen said even though he was no longer involved in politics his presence was still there.

“He will always be a moral compass for all of us,” Holtzhausen said. “His legacy is so strong, the foundation he has built is so strong. It will not change.”

Mandela’s body will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria from Wednesday through Friday. He will be buried Sunday in Qunu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s rural hometown in Eastern Cape  Province.  

Holtzhausen encouraged people to read “His Day is Done: A Tribute for Nelson Mandela by Maya Angelou on Behalf of the American People.”

“If anyone can read that I think it’s a wonderful tribute,” Holtzhausen said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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