A giant in times of huge hope

Nelson Mandela's death has reprised a time of great change, huge hope and ultimately great sadness in Nicolette Louverdis' memory of her former homeland.

The Nelson artist and mother, who moved here from Johannesburg with her husband and young family 16 years ago, said news of the anti-apartheid revolutionary hero's death had made her quite tearful.

"I remember the day he was released (in 1990). I was driving to my sister's place in Pretoria," said Mrs Louverdis, who was a fine arts student at WITS University [University of the Witwatersrand]; an area associated with Mr Mandela's legal practice.

Mrs Louverdis said Mr Mandela's unfailing spirit while he was imprisoned kept the spirit of change alive in South Africa.

"He didn't stop fighting from prison; if he had given up, I don't know if ever there would have been a turnaround for South Africa.

"When he was released there was a lot of anxiety among people who did not know which way the country would go. There were very few who I knew who were optimistic," Mrs Louverdis said.

She put Mr Mandela in the same realm as Ghandi - "people who could reconcile and forgive".

"The fact he could do that and have the wisdom to lead the country the way he did into peace . . . that first and only term of his was a highlight of my life. It was the year I got married and set up home. Optimism was a key word but once he stepped down, things proved not to be as rosy, especially for impoverished people," Mrs Louverdis said.

Mrs Louverdis said the ANC government that took over "never quite got Mandela's dream right".

It was the point at which the Louverdis family, like many others, lost hope in their future and emigrated.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key will join world leaders in South Africa for the funeral.

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The Nelson Mail