WASHINGTON D.C.— U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters says being in the presence of Nelson Mandela nearly rendered her speechless.
According to the California Democrat, Mandela “was a kind of person that you were so in awe of until you were almost stymied in your ability to speak with him on an ordinary level,” she said prior to Mandela’s death on Dec. 5, 2013.
Waters was a leader of the anti-Apartheid movement in the United States, also heading up efforts to divest pension funds from companies that did business with South Africa.
“Most of the time I was with Nelson Mandela, I was listening to him,” she said. “He was the one with the experiences; he was the one with the history, he was the one who had sacrificed.”
Mandela, 95, was revered by everybody and sought after by everybody in the world, Waters added.
Elected South Africa’s president in 1994, Mandela visited Washington and addressed joint sessions of Congress in 1990 shortly after his release from prison.
“When people talk about Mandela, they often mention the reconciliation aspect of his legacy,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois. “The fact that he was able to make right with himself and those who imprisoned him and move beyond it; I see him as one of the great liberators of all time. He certainly is the greatest liberator that history has seen in our lifetimes.”
Mandela addressed the U.S. Congress again in 1994 and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1998.
“The leadership of Congress and the members of the United States Congress absolutely were in awe of him and thrilled with who he was,” Waters recalled. “He was such a man of purpose and sacrifice that he just, I mean — he was like God.”
Rev. Floyd H. Flake, a former Democratic congressman for New York’s 6th District recalled first meeting Mandela a few days before his inauguration as South African president.
“There was no anger,” Flake said. “To a degree, there was no sense that he had a feeling that he had been mistreated by virtue of having served all of that time.”
Flake said Mandela’s visits to Washington underscored his ability to bring people together. If there was one thing Mandela did well, Flake noted, it was uniting people.
“It was the nature of his personality; the ability to pull people, to bring people together and to make them think together about what’s best for the planet, best for the world,” Flake said.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan was impressed by Mandela’s humility.
In a statement provided by his office, Conyers recalled Mandela’s visit to Detroit and his meeting with Rosa Parks, the mother of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, who had also worked for Conyers. Parks was “incredibly excited” to meet Mandela and thanked him for all of his work, Conyers recalled.
“Nelson Mandela was taken aback and told Mrs. Parks that he was there to see her and pay tribute to her work, not the other way around,” Conyers said.
Robert Felton contributed to this story