Janet Cupido was in South Africa on the day that Nelson Mandela was released from his cell on Robben Island after 27 years of imprisonment.
"I remember the day," Cupido told CBC Hamilton from her home in Ancaster. "It was a Saturday. Freedom flags were flying, people were singing. It was amazing."
Cupido is used to people asking her questions about the South African icon. She lived there for 24 years before coming to Canada in the early 90s. "The moment you say you're South African, it's the first thing."
Mandela — the same anti-apartheid icon who became the first president of a democratic South Africa, who passed away Thursday at his home in Johannesburg after a prolonged lung infection. He was 95.
And though Cupido mourns, she does so with a pride in her heart, as well. "No matter what, it's a celebration," she said. "You're still sad, but you think about the legacy."
"He will always be there. His legacy will always be there."
While people like Cupido have known about and admired Mandela for many years, his death has is creating an awareness for a new generation.
Standing for equality
The opportunity to educate today's youth about Mandela is why things started differently at Huntington Park Elementary School Friday.
Instead of setting up the day as she normally would, Grade 7 student Jasminn Costa announced an addition to the normal routine of the playing of the national anthem.
“This morning, you will hear two national anthems, one is from South Africa, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, was the world’s most respected activist who stood for racial equality in South Africa and around the world,” she read over the PA system. “He died peacefully at his home last night.”
She passed the phone to her music teacher, Ian Matthews, who sang the South African national anthem for his school to honour Mandela. He taught himself the anthem overnight, after hearing of Mandela’s death and deciding to share it with his students.
“He’s been through so much, what’s an hour of my time learning the language phonetically and then setting an example for the school,” Matthews said. “I can’t think of another person who sets a better example of how human beings should treat one another.”
Huntington Park staff and students aren’t the only ones who are remembering Mandela the day after his death.
Bonny Ibhawoh, a professor of African history, is thinking about him at McMaster University, but cautions people about placing him on a pedestal — it wasn’t what Mandela wanted, he said.
“He had limitations — that’s part of who he was as a man,” Ibhawoh said. “It doesn’t diminish his legacy, it humanizes it.”
“Though he is gone, the rest of the world can learn from his legacy,” he said.
'I think everyone should know about him'
Even students as young as Costa have felt that legacy.
“I just think what he did for his country, our country and around the world is so amazing,” the 12-year-old said.
Costa remembers when her mom first taught her about Mandela, when she was six years old.
“I learned a story about how [in South Africa] black children couldn’t sit at the same place on the bus and weren’t treated equally and I asked her why that changed,” she said. “I asked her why that changed and she answered [with Mandela].”
Costa and her friends Janessa Scott and Carlie Davidson found out about Mandela’s death on Instagram.
“Everyone was posting pictures of him, saying rest in peace,” Davidson said.
The girls don’t normally post pictures of other people on their accounts, but Costa decided to join in this time.
“He affected everyone and I think everyone should know about him,” she said.
Matthews said when the world looses someone of Mandela’s stature, a light has gone out. But by sharing Mandela’s nation’s song, he hopes the light will still shine in generations to come.
“I hope that when kids hear Nelson Mandela through this national anthem that they’ll be asking more questions about who he was and what he stood for,” he said.
Hamilton musician Harrison Kennedy, a recent winner of a lifetime achievement award at the Hamilton Music Awards, opened a noon-hour performance at CBC Hamilton's studios with a tribute to Mandela.
"He was a hero in this world, now he's a hero in heaven," said Kennedy, before performing a song he wrote dedicated to Mandela, called "Cry for Mother Africa."
Mandela will lie in state in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, from Dec. 11-13. His state funeral will take place in his hometown, Qunu, next Sunday, Dec. 15.