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KELOLAND Man Reflects On Time With Nelson Mandela

December 8, 2013, 10:08 PM by Sammi Bjelland

KELOLAND Man Reflects On Time With Nelson Mandela

Many people met Nelson Mandela throughout his life, but few got to spend time with him on a personal level.

Weeks after Nelson Mandela was released from spending 27 years in prison, he went to Saudi Arabia for some time of reflection.

Sioux Falls native Mike Saba was also in the country for work, when he got a call from a Saudi prince he had befriended.

"He called me and he said, 'Nelson Mandela is here. He's spending a week in the desert. Just for peace and quiet. To get away from all the hub bub. And I'm hosting him and would you like to come out and spend time with us here?' So I was thrilled," Saba said. 

Saba decided he couldn't miss this once in a lifetime experience, so he went out to the tent where his friend, the prince, and Mandela were staying.

"We sat around and talked. He slept a lot. He rested. At night at the campfires were the special occasions. Just sitting out there, telling jokes. He always had a funnier joke than any one of us. He was a funny guy," Saba said. 

During this personal time together, Saba says one thing that really stuck with him about Mandela was his ability to connect with people from all walks of life.

"He was one of the most humble men I've ever met. During the course of that week, we had everyone from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, to a beduin from the desert. A poor beduin from the desert, come into that tent. And he treated everyone alike. He treated, there was no difference in his demeanor," Saba said.

Many would think after spending that much time in prison, Mandela would become a bitter person. But Saba says that couldn't be further from the truth.

"When someone came in to the tent and started saying, 'You must have hated your jailer. You must have hated them.' I mean, these were the guys that made him pound rocks, that the rocks went into his eyes. That's why his vision was impaired. And the dust that came caused him to have terrible lung problems. He said, 'No, I didn't hate them. They were doing their jobs. They're human beings. They were my fellow country men. I detested the system that created those prisons,'" Saba said. 

Saba says the lessons he learned from Mandela are still with him to this day.

"When I tend to get a little bit angry with somebody I just think of Nelson Mandela. And say, I think I can work this out. It really was amazing what I learned from that man in that week," Saba said. 

Saba says the one thing Mandela liked to talk about the most during their week together, was his dream for South Africa's future.


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