Local Senator Reflects on Nelson Mandela's Death

Local Senator Reflects on Nelson Mandela's Death

"I was saddened of course. He had been a moral leader in the world," said Unger. "In a sense of how he handled the truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa and race relations, particularly coming from harsh conditions with the apartheid."

JEFFERSON COUNTY, W.Va. - While thousands of people around the world have been paying their respects to the late South African President, Nelson Mandela, one West Virginia senator is reflecting on the brief time he spent with Mandela a couple of decades ago.

Just like millions of people who adored Nelson Mandela, West Virginia Senate Majority Leader John Unger was saddened when he heard the news Mandela died. However, Unger feels fortunate to have met the former South African president.

"I was saddened of course. He had been a moral leader in the world," said Unger. "In a sense of how he handled the truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa and race relations, particularly coming from harsh conditions with the apartheid."

In 1990 Unger went to India and worked with Mother Theresa. That October, Mandela visited India spreading his message of peace. Mother Theresa was going to meet Mandela and asked Unger if he would like to join at that time the 21-year-old West Virginian saw his life changed forever.

"He came up and shook my hand. We actually had some conversation," said Unger. "What I noticed about him was dignity, the air of dignity he had, also his hands were very much callous."

That meeting propelled Unger into a life of leadership. And years later when he enrolled at Oxford University he was one of many who had a hand in creating the new constitution for South Africa when Mandela was elected president.

"I was part of the team at Oxford that helped with input and consultation in the writing in the constitution, as well as the truth and reconciliation commission," said Unger. "I have never been to South Africa but from Oxford as a student I was engaged in that whole process."

Unger says he would not be the state senator he is today if it weren't for the time he had face to face with Mandela.  

Mandela will be laid to rest this Sunday at his hometown in the Eastern Cape Province.

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