PLATTSBURGH — Only one degree separated the late Nelson Mandela and Paul Ferrari of West Chazy.
Ferrari’s late father, Frank, worked at the Africa-America Institute in New York City.
“He was really one of the leaders in this country working with the anti-apartheid activists and also bringing influential politicians like Teddy Kennedy, Andrew Young and John Lewis in terms of helping to divest, to put sanctions against South Africa,” Paul said Thursday evening.
“The Reagan administration was against sanctions, saying that it hurt the people.
“The South African leaders, my father and anti-apartheid activists led by the African National Congress and Bishop Tutu called for sanctions to abolish apartheid in South Africa.”
Frank was very close to Mandela and attended his presidential inauguration on May 10, 1994 in Pretoria.
“My father opened up the office in 1990 in South Africa,” Paul said. “He and my mom lived there for two years. I got to meet him (Mandela) when he addressed the United Nations for the first time in 1990.”
Paul and his wife, Lynn Schneider, visited South Africa soon after Mandela had been released from prison after serving 27 years at Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison.
“Nelson had been released that February,” Paul said. “When we went to South Africa, it was such an exciting time. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, I can remember watching it at home and seeing him come out for the first time.
“It was one of the most exciting moments of my lifetime, just because of what he represented, knowing that he made the ultimate sacrifice for his people, really for South Africa and the world in going to fight against an unjust system like apartheid.
“He was an inspiration. At that time, he was prepared to die to create a nonracial South Africa and his commitment toward his people, his country where everyone is respected regardless of one’s race. He was willing to give up his life.”
Mandela was a sign of hope for many.
“Everyone lost their land,” Paul said. “Families were separated, people were killed, and the violence of the apartheid regime was vicious.
“There were many leaders, but he was the figurehead of the movement speaking out against apartheid, against the racism, but he always spoke of a nonracial South Africa, a free South Africa, for all the people.”
Like many of his generation, Paul participated in demonstrations and supported the economic sanctions against South Africa.
“Even in Plattsburgh at the Newman Center, we had anti-apartheid speakers and films,” Paul recalled Thursday. “We had an ANC representative come up to speak.
“When Nelson Mandela came out of prison in 1990, he said, ‘We are one people, one country, a nonracial South Africa.’”
The impact of Mandela’s aptitude for forgiveness and reconciliation set a bar.
“It was a powerful act of love in terms of how we should view each other and treat each other,” Paul said.
“The ultimate sign of that was reconciliation and looking at people in nonracial lens. He invited his jailers to his inauguration when he became president.”
Paul last saw Mandela at a gathering at Riverside Church in Harlem around 2005 or 2006.
“What an amazing human being — how gifted we were to have Nelson Mandela to show the world how to overcome hate and how to resolve conflict without war, how to live together in peace,” Paul said.
“He will be, for generations to come, a symbol of hope.”
Email Robin Caudell:email@example.com
Staff Writer Robin Caudell interviews South African native Portia Xoliswa Allie-Turco on the legacy of Nelson Mandela. View video with this article online at www.pressrepublican.com.