CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dianne Stewart now calls Mooresville home, but for nearly eight generations of her family’s history, home was in South Africa.
“I miss my friends, my lifelong friends, and I miss the beauty of the country,” she.
Stewart spent Thursday evening watching the coverage of Nelson Mandela’s passing on television.
Stewart pointed to the children coming together in a circle celebrating the life and legacy of the revered leader.
“From the point of view of children, black and white mixing together, out there singing, that would have never happened 30 years ago. His legacy is the normalization of society,” she said.
Her husband’s job brought them to North Carolina 13 year ago. That’s when she started the non-profit group, South Africans in Charlotte.
To date, the group represents 500 or so families from South Africa, now living in the Charlotte area.
"In 1990, most Americans can remember where they were when JFK was shot. I can remember where I was specifically when I heard on the radio, the apartheid government had decided to release him. I mean it was a pivotal moment."
Her job in public relations eventually lead to close interactions with Mandela.
She worked alongside the leader during the country’s most critical time of transition, working with the apartheid government and all factions, in what would be a blueprint for a new constitution.
"They spent four years at the table, thrashing out every aspect of how this country should be born."
Stewart has a personal connection in more ways than one.
“He was in the same hospital (for eye surgery) on the same day I had Michael (son). That was a special moment.”
“He had an incredible sense of humor, he wore these wonderful shirts. Just an incredible humble man.”
Her sadness is coupled with concern on the fate of South Africa from on out.
She says she was sad but concerned after hearing of Mandela’s death.
“Concerned, that this incredibly important man in the history of my country is gone, and hoping that the people coming after him will keep his vision alive.
"South Africa has so much potential, it has so much, it has some of the most wonderful people on earth, and I just hope his vision of provision for all, amenities for all, education for all, happens. It hasn't really happened yet. The dream of South Africa hasn't yet come into fruitions, for every South African yet."