SALT LAKE CITY — Utahn Howard "Buddy" Beck, an official election observer of South Africa's first fully representative, multiracial election, remembers Nelson Mandela as "a great man" who "never forgot where he came from."
Mandela, South Africa's first black president, died Thursday after being hospitalized in Pretoria for three months for treatment of a persistent lung infection. He was 95 years old.
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for opposing apartheid and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to dismantle South Africa's legacy of racial segregation, inequality and institutionalized racism.
He was "primarily and fundamentally a revolutionary," said Beck, noting Mandela was a founder of the Spear of the Nation, the militant wing of the African National Congress.
"That kind of gets lost in the talk about the transition to democracy. If you look at his history, he decided that change wasn't going to come to South Africa unless a more militant approach took place. He realized, because of the oppression the people of South Africa were going through, the only way to change how things were going to be done, the power structure had to be dismantled," he said.
Beck, then a union instrument electrician at a refinery in Woods Cross, was among a group of volunteers from the AFL-CIO chosen to observe the historic election in 1994.
"It was a life-changing experience for me just to witness it. I can't imagine how it was for activists in the ANC or even the people who opposed it," he said.
Beck said he was "scared to death" whether the election could be conducted safety because the Afrikaner Resistance Movement had bombed the airport days before the historic vote.
"It was a dangerous time. It was an exciting time, just the hopes and aspirations of common African people," he said.
Beck said he has vivid memories of a young African woman skipping down a road after being allowed to vote for the first time.
"It was hopes and dreams. You know, a lot of that has come true. It's a better country now but there's still a lot of problems. Anyway, that was an exciting time," he said.
Others expressed their feelings about Mandela in statements and on social media.
First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: "With the rest of the world, we mourn the passing of revered statesman Nelson Mandela. His courage, kindness and extraordinary moral leadership have been an example to all people. We express our love and sympathies to his family and the people of South Africa as they remember his extraordinary life."
Gov. Gary Herbert: "Nelson Mandela was a great humanitarian who suffered much for his fellow man. Mandela led with a strong-willed determination to improve the lives of others. His humanitarian legacy should encourage each of us to be better."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah: "Today, South Africa and the world lost one of its greatest leaders and freedom fighters with the passing of Nelson Mandela. From combatting the immoral apartheid regime to his time presiding over the country's peaceful transition to democracy as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela's dignity, courage and conviction made him a lion among men."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah: "Nelson Mandela was a great man. This is an enormous loss for the world."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, via Twitter: "Few people in the history of the world have had a greater impact than President Mandela. May God bless him and his family."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah: "I am deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela. He was a tireless voice for equality whose legacy will be forever honored not only in South Africa, but around the world. May we all remember, and be always inspired by, the bold example and steady leadership shown by President Mandela.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah: "I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela. He was a courageous leader who did so much for South Africa and was an example to so many around the world. On a personal note, I'll always remember some great words spoken by Mr. Mandela: 'I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.'"
Jeanetta Williams, NAACP Salt Lake Branch president: "Our nation is a better nation because of former President Mandela, and he made a difference to the world. He leaves a rich legacy and lived to see the many changes in Africa because of his works."
Norm Bangerter, former Utah governor and LDS mission president in South Africa: "He came out of prison with every reason to be personally mad at the world and to have a vendetta. But he didn't believe in white domination, and he didn't believe in black domination. I think he understood very clearly that you have to learn to work together. We could use a little of that in America today."
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, via Twitter: "In the modern age, Nelson Mandela will be remembered as an unsurpassed healer of human hearts."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., via Twitter: "Sad but not unexpected news out of South Africa. The human condition passes but President Mandela's soul lives on, and the world is grateful."
Contributing: McKenzie Romero
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: DNewsPolitics
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company