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Echuca family reflects on Mandela's life

A South African family who moved to Echuca pays tribute to Nelson Mandela.

IVY WISE December 9, 2013 4:04am

Shelly and Bruce Barnes-Webb have been saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela.

A South African family who moved to Echuca nearly seven years ago will remember Nelson Mandela as a man of the people who led by example.

Bruce and Shelly Barnes-Webb and their children, Sarah and Bryn, have been left saddened by the death of the country’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon, who died on Friday at the age of 95.

Mr Barnes-Webb said although Mr Mandela’s death was inevitable, as he had been sick for some time, it was still a shock.

‘‘He was an absolute icon in all society, white and black,’’ he said.

‘‘He was the one unifying figurehead people put their hopes on.’’

Mr Barnes-Webb, who owned and lived on a sheep and cattle farm in the north-eastern cape of South Africa for 18 years, had personal contact with Mr Mandela in 1995 over agriculture and land ownership issues.

‘‘He sent me a personal reply. He was that kind of man,’’ he said.

‘‘He was a man of the people, a gracious man. He had time for everyone.

‘‘Colour didn’t matter. He treated people the same, wherever he went.’’

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate led South Africa’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison.

‘‘I think the biggest thing (that Mr Mandela will be remembered by) is when he came out of incarceration, he was preaching reconciliation,’’ Mr Barnes-Webb said.

‘‘He was the person who handed out the olive branch and people grabbed a hold of it.’’

Mr Barnes-Webb’s ancestors arrived in South Africa in 1820 through the English settler program and his remaining family still live in the eastern cape.

‘‘I grew up speaking the same language as Mandela,’’ he said.

Although the family of four left the country in 2006 to escape the violence and political uncertainty, they have fond memories of their home.

Mr Barnes-Webb didn’t believe Mr Mandela’s death would lead to riots, considering he had been out of public life for the past 10 to 15 years.

‘‘He was highly regarded in society and I think it’s highly unlikely that people will damage his name and exploit his death for sinister means,’’ Mr Barnes-Webb said.

With tributes pouring in from around the world and a funeral expected in Pretoria on Saturday, Mr Barnes-Webb said this would be a time for reflection for his family.

‘‘We will partake in something, most likely quiet reflection on Nelson Mandela’s achievements,’’ he said.

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