Abilene resident who grew up in South Africa reacts to Nelson Mandela's death

ABILENE, Texas - The world is saying goodbye to South African prisoner-turned-President Nelson Mandela.

The former President of South Africa passed away Thursday after years of battling health issues. He was 95.

Mandela was more than a President to the people of South Africa, he changed the structure of the entire country.

"I can't think of anybody else quite like him in that role of leader in the world right now," said Abilene resident and South Africa native Arlene Kasselman.

Mandela fought for civil liberties in South Africa for decades.

"A voice for equality and justice and even in all of the grace and the forgiveness and compassion that he extended he was never soft on what was the right thing to do," said Kasselman.

Mandela's life was not easy. He was imprisoned for 27 years when he was charged with trying to overthrow the South African government, but he walked out a free man on February 11, 1990. Four years later he ran for president and won.

"For many of us, we feel like Nelson Mandela saved our lives because at the time we thought he was going to be released from prison, rise up this army and going to fight back and it was going to be the end of life as we knew it and that's not what happened. He was released from prison and then used every opportunity to bring us together as a country and a people," Kasselman said. 

Mandela led his country out of apartheid, a system of legal segregation in the country and gave many people hope.

"Having lived through the apartheid and all of the segregation and the propaganda and the censorship and everything we lived through you couldn't quite believe the shift that was being made," Kasselman said.

Mandela retired from the presidency in 1999 and in 2004, he retired from public life to spend more time with his family.

Kasselman said although Mandela has passed on, he will not soon be forgotten.

"I think the hope that you see and the fact that South Africa has been given a fighting chance to survive is seeing his fingerprints on things," said Kasselman.

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