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South African Minister Of Correctional Services Says Mandela Put Search For Knowledge At Forefront

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Sibusiso Ndebele, the current South African minister of correctional services, met Nelson Mandela while both were in prison in South Africa, where he says that Mandela preached the equality of whites and blacks to his followers. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

Sibusiso Ndebele spent 10 years behind bars in South Africa. That's where he met Nelson Mandela.

"He's a person who inspired us so much," Ndebele said. "Prison was very hard, but if you see a person with this fortitude, with his balance, which his conviction of the correctness of our cause, and holding himself with all the dignity, all of us had to be inspired to do the same.

Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 for fighting against apartheid. He was still there 15 years later when Ndebele was locked up for trying to end the government's forced segregation and oppression of blacks. In a twist of fate, Ndebele is currently the South African minister of correctional services.

Q: You lived it. What is that legacy of Nelson Mandela?
Ndebele: First of all, this is steadfastness. He's a very tough person. He stood up against oppression. If you remember his first trial, he said, "Well, I've decided to conduct my own defense," and the title, the newspaper gave it a title that "A black man in a white man's court.

Despite spending years and years on the infamous Robben Island, the men never ended their struggle. The search for knowledge was always at the forefront for Mandela and his followers.

Ndebele: I'm also a qualified librarian, so I was also his librarian.
Q: So you were his librarian when you were there.
Ndebele: Well, I worked in the library, in the prison library, I was in charge of the library as an inmate.
Q: And he would often come in, and what would he read?
Ndebele: History. He loved history, and he's got a phenomenal memory.

He also demanded that his followers, even while in prison, not return the hatred they were faced with.

"There were young people coming mostly from the background of black consciousness, and white people bad, black people good, and so our world was very simple," Ndebele said. "And he said, 'No, the world is much more complicated than that. You know many black people who are not good. You know many white people who are not bad. So you've got to do much more serious thinking than you are doing.'"

Ndebele said that Mandela preached equality of whites and blacks, but he also taught different groups of blacks to respect each other's opposing political views in order to strive for a better South Africa.

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