UCSC alums contribute comment, analysis after Nelson Mandela's death

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Nelson Mandela

The recollections and analysis of UC Santa Cruz alumni figured prominently after the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela earlier this month.

Douglas Foster

When Douglas Foster (Kresge, '76, American Studies) last visited Mandela, the "old man," as he was known throughout South Africa, joked that "it was nice that young people still come to see an old man who has nothing new to say."

Appearing on the PBS NewsHour (beginning at 34:45) the night of Mandela's death December 5, Foster said Mandela's comment was simply part of his effort to make himself dispensable as opposed to most leaders' efforts to make themselves indispensable.

 Foster is the author of After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2012, Liveright Publishing Corp.) the result of several visits to South Africa since 2004. Foster is an associate professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism where he directs the South Africa Teaching Media Program. He also lived in the country for a year in 2007 while writing his book.

In the book's acknowledgements, Foster writes that he owes a lifelong debt to late UCSC politics professor John Schaar "who taught me how to think about authority, community, political participation and democracy."

Foster spent 24 hours in a news-cycle whirlwind after Mandela's death, with articles in the Los Angeles Times and The Nation in addition to his PBS appearance. Foster also wrote "The Mandela Family Feud: What Will It Mean for His Legacy?' in the July 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

William Finnegan

Another UCSC alumnus, New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan (Cowell, '74, English literature), posted an article on the magazine's website that details Mandela's life from his birth in 1918, through his years as an activist and imprisonment, to his eventual freedom and election as South Africa's first black president.

Mandela "was the last of the twentieth century’s national liberators," Finnegan wrote. "He became a global symbol of righteousness and reconciliation. He led his beloved, tormented country from the howling darkness of apartheid to the promised land of democracy with shrewdness, courage, and visionary determination."

Finnegan is the author of Crossing the Line: A Year in the Land of Apartheid that the New York Times Book Review named as a top 10 nonfiction book of 1986.  In it he recounts his experiences as a white teacher of black students near Cape Town and vividly describes the many big and small indignities of living under apartheid.

Richard Sergay

Richard Sergay (Merrill, '78, politics) is a native South African who returned in 1985 first as a producer for ABC News and later as the network's bureau chief and correspondent.

In an email December 6, Sergay wrote that "many memories have been flooding back in the last 24 hours, including covering that momentous day in February 1990 when Mandela walked free." Sergay's final report in 1991 describes the emotion of covering the end of apartheid.

Sergay credits the late UCSC professor and Merrill College Provost John Marcum with cultivating his interest in South Africa. Marcum, an expert on southern Africa, died in September at age 86.

"He became my intellectual hero," Sergay wrote in a remembrance of Marcum. "I had been born in South Africa and left at an early age. And while not steeped in its history and politics like John, I decided to take advantage of the uniqueness of what this University offers its undergraduates – access to the best and the brightest among its teaching faculty.

"John was deeply committed not only to understanding the historical landscape, but in also making a difference in outcomes on the ground -- a true scholar activist.

"John's contribution to my learning and future thinking was critical and cannot be overstated."