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Utahns with ties to South Africa reflect on Mandela’s legacy

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Posted at 9:38 PM, Dec 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-05 23:38:34-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Half a world away from where Nelson Mandela died, the former South African president's life hits home for Gavin Van Staden.

“He made some incredible decisions, not based on party lines, color lines or anything like that, just what is best for the country,” said Van Staden. “And I think that really just won everyone's hearts and minds over.”

The North Salt Lake resident was born and raised in South Africa. He left three years after Mandela took office, a tumultuous time for a country that had survived an apartheid regime.

“Everyone was expecting the worst,” Van Staden said. “You couldn’t buy ammunition anywhere. You couldn’t get firearms anywhere. Everywhere was sort of stockpiling. People were leaving in the country in droves.”

But rather than seek revenge against those who imprisoned him for 27 years, Mandela instead brought peace to a place where conflict had ruled.

“It would have been a terrible, terrible war on both sides,” said Wendell Jakins, who moved to the U.S. from South Africa at 20 years old.

From afar, Jakins watched as his home country began to change shape after Mandela took office in 1994.

“He really lived what he preached, so to speak,” Jakins said. “When Mandela took over, he was sent by The Lord. It had to be a Godsend of a man. This man who had been in prison for 27 years had no animosity in his heart or his soul."

As the world says goodbye to one of its most revered leaders, many South Africans are parting with someone who stood for much more.

“He was called Madiba, which means, sort of, Father,” Van Staden said. “And I truly believe every person in South Africa, no matter what gender or race or anything, saw him as that. He settled things, he brought a calm to the country, and he acted like a father of the country, wanting the best for the people of the country.”