A Kitchener man who once lived in South Africa remembers former president Nelson Mandela as a man who inspired millions to fight prejudice, racism and poverty and yet retained the approachability of an "ordinary guy" who made it possible to "aspire to be like him."

Allen Magama, who lived in Zimbabwe before finally moving to Canada in 2007, told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Mandela's legacy is "the good fight."

"I think the biggest thing for me is the fact he said to himself, 'if a saint is a sinner who continuously tries, then I am that.' That is his legacy," he said.

"The fact that you're not born saintly but you can work towards it and you can just be an ordinary man with conviction and you can pull through as long as you maintain that conviction and you are right in what you're going for."

Growing up with Mandela

Magama remembered first being inspired by Mandela when he was a boy living in Zimbabwe. 

"Growing up we all were told about Nelson Mandela," he said. "We knew he was there and that this person was fighting for freedom so we all kind of grew up around him and in southern Africa at that time it was a very nationalistic mood, so everyone was very much aware of what was happening in South Africa."

Magama said he can remember the tremendous outpouring of joy across much of the southern half of the continent when Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, only to be eclipsed by the celebrations sparked by his victory in the 1994 South African election. 

"There was dancing and celebrations across all of southern Africa, I would say pretty much all across sub-Saharan Africa because it was something that we really did not see and expect happening," he said. "It was the ultimate come around from being this vilified terrorist, so to speak, to becoming this beloved statesman. It's just amazing."

Funerals in southern Africa are expressions of joy

Magama said he wasn't surprised to see tens of thousands of South Africans warmly remembering Mandela's life despite the cold rain inside a packed Johannesburg soccer stadium, noting funerals in southern Africa are expressions of joy, not sorrow. 

"The fact that they may be going through a painful period because of sickness, that's what brings us the sadness, but the actual passing does not give the sadness," he said. 

"It's mostly a celebration to say, 'Hoy, it was a good fight, now he's resting, now let's celebrate what he did.' That's what I feel and I think that's what most South Africans feel."

Magama said while Mandela's legacy might be "the good fight," there is still much to be done. 

"The biggest part of what's left now is the sharing of the wealth that South Africa has," he said. "Trying to reverse the legacy of apartheid and colonialism."