El Paso, TX (KDBC) — After months of battling a recurring lung infection, former South African President Nelson Mandela died Thursday night at the age of 95.
But for millions around the world, and in El Paso, he'll be remembered for his life-long battle against a racist regime, and the powerful role he played in bringing democracy to a sharply segregated and troubled nation.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father," said current South African President Jacob Zuma late Thursday.
After spending 27 years behind bars for his tireless struggles against racial oppression in his country, Mandela emerged from the gates of prison not with bitterness or anger, but with a message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
"I cherish the ideal of an Africa, where all South Africans are equal," he said.
"Mandela is almost a mythical figure, larger-than-life," said Dr. Charles Ambler, a History professor at UTEP.
When Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became the first democratic president of South Africa four years later, the political shift in that country has since been called "unprecedented."
"The day he was released from prison, gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they're guided by their hopes and not their fears," said US President Barack Obama at a press conference on Thursday.
"It was impossible to imagine that the change that eventually did come, would come," said Dr. Ambler.
Many of Dr. Ambler's doctoral students at UTEP reacted similarly to Mandela's death.
"Nelson Mandela will go down as one of the 'greats' in history - a person that gave his whole life to his people," said Eloy Garcia.
"It's a horrible loss to the world community, for civil rights, social justice. He did a lot," said Gene Morales.
While Mandela has perished, his message of equality remains in the hearts of many - that South Africans and future generations of the world must achieve dreams based on their talents rather than the color of their skin.
Nelson Mandela received hundreds of awards over the years for his work, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.