STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's hear more response now to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela. NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is on the line. She is in Lagos, Nigeria. And Ofeibea, how are people responding there?
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Oh, there's deep, deep sorrow here in Nigeria. Nigerians, like many, many Africans across this continent, very fond of Nelson Mandela. President Goodluck Jonathan has issued a statement. He said Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest sons of Africa. Although it has come at the advanced age of 95, Madiba, as he's called by his clan name, his death will create a huge vacuum that will be difficult to fill in our continent.
He will be sorely missed by all who cherish love, peace and freedom the world over.
INSKEEP: So you have not a country but a continent that claims him as its own. Now didn't you cover - you mentioned, Ofeibea, covering Nelson Mandela when he was president in South Africa in the 1990s.
QUIST-ARCTON: I got to South Africa to live in 1998. You know, it was still the good times. South Africans were still getting used to each other, getting used to the new democratic dispensation. And they looked to Nelson Mandela, not only Mr. Mandela, but to the other great struggle icons and they were saying thank you. Thank you for bringing us freedom.
When I was in South Africa earlier in the year whilst Mr. Mandela was in hospital, many young South Africans - Steve, they're called the born frees, those who did not live through apartheid, those who did not live through the strife, saying without the likes of Nelson Mandela and others we would not be free. We would not be here at university getting a good education. They thanked him and that's very much the mood.
Although everybody is sorrowful, they are celebrating his life and legacy.
INSKEEP: Did you ever meet him personally?
QUIST-ARCTON: You know, we didn't have a sit down face to face interview but I met him in 1991. We were attending then an organization of African Unity Summit. You know, he didn't know me from Adam or Eve, but he came up, shook my hand. And whenever he spoke to anyone, whether he knew them or not, he would make you feel that you had known him all of your life because of his warmth and because of his presence.
You know, I'm a journalist and I can be hard bitten but I have to say I melted.
INSKEEP: Can you help us remember something that may be difficult to reconstruct at this moment when he is universally acclaimed? This was a man who was a very controversial figure, who was accused of being a communist, accused of being a terrorist. He was a president and therefore a politician with an opposition. How did this man handle opposition and criticism?
QUIST-ARCTON: I think the one thing everybody will remember about Nelson Mandela, that he was a strong character. There's no doubt about it. But he had a graciousness and a gentleness and he listened. He listened to his opponents. He listened to those who did not belong to the ANC in South Africa.
And he said, but we have a common purpose here. We have got to rebuild our country. We can only do that together. And he had an incredible sense of humor. He was a mischievous man. He had a big smile and a word of love and affection, thanks, for everyone. And I think that is the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
INSKEEP: When you say that he was a mischievous man, did he ever poke fun at his own extraordinary fame?
QUIST-ARCTON: All the time, Steve. I think, you know, behind the fun was, no, come on, let's just come down to Earth. What we have got to do is make South Africa a better place to live. Make our continent a better continent for all Africans. Nobody will forget that Nelson Mandela was the man who turned round and forgave the oppressors who jailed him for 27 years. He was someone special.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Ofeibea, thanks.
QUIST-ARCTON: And thank you, Steve, on a sorrowful day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.