Local reaction to Mandela's death draws tears, fond memories - KCTV5 News

Local reaction to Mandela's death draws tears, fond memories

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Nelson Mandela made an impact worldwide, but for some Kansas Citians, the memories are particularly personal.

Rev. Nelson "Fuzzy" Thompson is the long-time local chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group of ministers which came to prominence under Martin Luther King Jr's leadership during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He was part of a U.S. delegation that visited Mandela on two occasions.

"I was telling my wife last night," Thompson said. "Just last night we were talking about this."

Thompson was glued to the TV screen for hours Thursday.

"I first met him at his home, at his original home, in Soweto," Thompson said. "It was a modest home."

Thompson's first visit was in 1990 when Mandela was freed after spending 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid beliefs.

"Here's a man who spent 27 years in jail and came out with no bitterness, no anger," Thompson remembered with admiration. "He was very warm, very kind, a gentle giant."

Emotions run high over the death of Mandela and for an example of that you need go no further than Judith Appollis, an Overland Park resident and South African native.

"I was born in Johannesburg in 1960 in the midst of apartheid," Appollis said.

It's been a long journey from her childhood in South Africa where apartheid was the law and blacks were relegated to second-class citizens to her life her in Kansas City. Appollis is the director of graduate admissions for Park University where her daughter Kirby attends school. She said she moved to the Kansas City area in 2004, but remembers her time as a young child, and young woman in Johannesburg very well.

"Growing up, everyone just accepted things for what they were. Being black meant that you lived in a certain area, went to school in a certain area, and shopped in a certain area," Appollis told KCTV5. "That was that. I mean, there were just rights blacks didn't have and weren't going to get."

As a child, she said she was unaware of any political struggle. But that began to change when she got to high school and beyond. It really started, she said, with the Soweto uprising in 1976 when black students protested Afrikaans as the official language of South Africa.

"I was part of that. I was in the 10th grade, living in a small community that was literally across the street from Soweto," Appollis said. "But Nelson Mandela was in jail and no one even knew what he looked like. It was illegal to talk about Mandela or his African National Congress."

Still, the protests continues into the 70s right through the 80s and into the 90s.

Then, in 1990, Mandela was freed.

"Euphoric! It was magical. Everyone went to big stadiums to hear him speak. You couldn't get enough information about him and from him," Appollis said. "It was like a huge celebration that didn't end."

As a result of Mandela's release and the eventual end of apartheid, Appollis said she was allowed to vote. The year was 1994. She was 34 years old.

Thompson returned to South Africa in 1994 when Mandela was elected president, an election with a striking turnout.

"It was an experience like I cannot explain," Thompson said. "It was a lifetime experience."

Mandela was 95 and ill for some time, so Thompson views the day of his death not as a sad one, but rather a milestone.

"This is a man of such greatness that his death signals a new beginning, a new world order that he has set forth," Thompson said. "It's our responsibility now to follow and to make the kind of contribution he gave to society."

Even though she lives in a new country with a new life a half a world away, Appollis was moved to tears by the passing of Mandela.

"Man, when I heard, I cried. My eyes just shot full of tears. It's extreme sadness. I mean, we expected it because of his illness. But, he was the whole of Africa. He was my hope. He gave me the chance to be a person. He gave me a life. All of South Africa is affected by his death and we're sad about it, very sad about it," she said.

For Appollis, the emotions are raw and the news, though expected, hurts.

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