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Harvard students are eagerly awaiting President Nelson Mandela's visit and address as he receives an honorary doctorate.
Motivations for students planning to attend the ceremony in Tercentenary Theater vary from personal curiosity to see the Nobel Peace Prize-winner to poignant questions about the future of South Africa they hope to see Mandela address.
For those with personal ties to South Africa, Mandela's visit holds even greater significance.
South African native Marna Shutte '01, having never heard Mandela speak in person before, is excited about seeing him here for both personal and patriotic reasons.
"I'm very happy to have him visit here. It's good for our country's image," she said.
Noting the global attention given to the South African leader and the country's leadership position in Africa, Shutte expects Mandela to speak about foreign relations and more specifically, "the role that we, both the United States and South Africa, can play in helping the continent of Africa as a whole."
James I. Mwangi ]00, president of the Harvard African Association, expressed excitement about Mandela's visit.
"Having visited South Africa and spent time there, I feel that it's impossible not to be very excited," Mwangi said. "And as an African, myself, it's got to be one of the highlights of my time here to see him in person."
However, Mwangi criticized the general public's tendency to "terribly oversimplify what's going on in South Africa," to enthusiastically embrace an idealized Mandela rather than the real man.
Mwangi, a native of Nairobi which was the site of a recent terrorist attack on a U.S. embassy, hopes to hear Mandela address his concerns about international terrorism.
"Considering he was once labeled a terrorist himself, I'm curious to hear the other perspective of the issue," he said of the South African leader.
"Mandela's been criticized for interacting with people considered pariahs: Syria, Libya, etc., and I'm interested in hearing his views about past loyalties in conflict with current loyalties," Mwangi said.
With the approaching millennium and the chance to banish the shadow of colonialism from modern Africa, Mwangi is also interested in hearing Mandela's views on South Africa's possible leadership role for the entire continent.
"I'd like for him to speak on the future of Africa itself. Africa seems poised for a new direction in the millennium, and I'm interested in hearing his view on South Africa's role," said Mwangi.
Justin P. Steil '00 had the opportunity to hear Mandela at an African National Congress rally while studying in South Africa last semester.
Studying at both the University of Natal and the University of Durban Westville, Steil found South Africa very different from what he expected.
"I was expecting it to be a progressive haven, but found the legacy of apartheid a lot deeper than I'd ever imagined," Steil said. "There are a lot of challenges that I'd never understood before I got there."
Eben E. Kenah '00 also spoke passionately about his admiration of Mandela, intensified by his visit to South Africa as a writer for the Let's Go travel guide to South Africa.
"I would shoot my own leg off to have the chance to talk to him," Kenah said.
Kenah strongly urged fellow students to attend.
"In college we're never really expected to have a real correlation between our beliefs and the way we lead our lives," he said. "We talk about social issues, but very few people dedicate their lives to anything like that. Nelson Mandela deserves an honorary doctorate, but it is really we who are honored by being alive to witness the life of a man who ignited a fire in the minds of millions of people."
Riad Abrahams '99 echoed Kenah's desire to recognize Mandela's accomplishments and contributions to both South Africa and the world.
"I've visited Johannesburg twice and definitely have a more intense feeling because of it, but everyone in general should recognize what an amazing man he is and how deserving he is of this award," Abrahams said.
Mwangi, Steil, Kenah and Abrahams all remarked on the visible admiration South African natives have for Mandela, some-thing that became apparent during their visits.
"Being in the country, you get the idea of what he really means to them, to the country as a symbol," Mwangi said, adding that Mandela appears to "hold a country of disparate views together by sheer moral integrity."
Manisha S. Shetty '00, who plans to travel to South Africa next semester, applauded the University's decision to open the event to the entire student body.
"I'd like to hear him talk about anything...it's such a great opportunity for students to hear such a great historical figure speak," she said.
Both Shutte and Kenah recommended Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
"The book makes him so much more human...it's amazing to watch him dedicate himself to the struggle," Shetty said.
Mandela's visit is also generating enthusiastic responses from students not personally familiar with South Africa.
"He has a sort of morally iconic status that can be associated with Martin Luther King, Jr.," Jody Peltason '01 said.
Vladimir B. Bystricky '00 hopes to hear Mandela speak about "what he expects for the future of race relations, both in South Africa and in our country, the United States-as he sees it."
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