CLEVELAND-- From their house in Northeast Ohio, Glenn and Des Cowie sat quietly Thursday night listening to news reports from their homeland in South Africa that Nelson Mandela had died.
The loss is personal for the couple.
Both Glenn and Des were born and raised under Apartheid and taught that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist.
“We’d all been indoctrinated and saw him as a threat,” said Glenn.
But that all changed at the 1995 World Cup Rugby final.
Glenn says, at the time Rugby was hugely popular in South Africa among white people.
Fans were excited that their team was playing in the championship game, while tensions outside of the sport ran high.
Nelson Mandela had been released from prison after being wrongfully locked up 27 years.
With the threat of a civil war looming, Mandela entered the stadium wearing a team shirt, ball cap and sincere smile.
“I’ll never forget that; it’s a day you’ll never forget,” said Glenn.
The event was depicted in the 2009 movie 'Invictus,' and Glenn says in real life it truly played out like a Hollywood movie.
“Suddenly he comes out; there’s a massive crowd, 79,000 were all chanting his name. It was very, very moving for us,” said Glenn.
For the first time, Glenn says, white people in South Africa realized that Mr. Mandela was not a monster as they’d been taught, but a person, a peacemaker and their president.
He was president who vowed that, “Never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one or another.”
A civil war was averted and peace negotiated between the two sides.
“Had it not been for him South Africa could’ve been a blood bath, if he’d come out vindictive about his situation,” said Glenn.
Glenn became a successful businessman and he and his wife had to leave their country moving to Europe and then the United States.
But his position enabled him to return home and meet Mr. Mandela face to face several times.
“What is most remarkable about him, what I remember most about him, is that he never, ever did anything for himself. It was always for the country and people of South Africa,” said Glenn. “I don’t think there’s anybody that can have that kind of compassion for anybody, especially for a previous regime that incarcerated him for 27 years.”
Glenn says Nelson Mandela will never be forgotten.
His lessons of love and forgiveness are not only timeless but universal.
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