The world continues to mourn Friday following the death of Nelson Mandela Thursday afternoon. The famed world leader and former president of South Africa was 95 years old.
But Mandela's impact reaches far beyond the borders of South Africa. For natives, his vision of peace and democracy is one they thought they'd never witness firsthand.
Nelson Mandela became a household name in South Africa when John Els was a child. He grew up in a rural part of the country, while his wife lived in Johannesburg. John says political fights remained in the cities until the late 1980s.
"In that sense, he was placed as the enemy when I was a kid,” Els said. “Then, when I got older and eventually when he got released, then we started discovering this guy is doing some good things."
John’s wife Esme Els remembers the conflict and Mandela's desire to change the culture.
"Today, I believe that maybe he didn't have a choice,” Esme Els said. “I don't think people realized how adamant he was about his cause."
The couple moved with their young son to the United States in 1996 after winning the green card lottery, but they were in South Africa to witness Nelson Mandela take office—and the moment Mandela united a nation at odds with itself.
"It was on the 26th of June, 1994,” Esme said. “It brought the country together--all colors, ages, shapes and sizes. Even the crime rate dropped that week because we won the World Cup."
The Els say crime seems to have increased in South Africa, but the country is more politically stable.
They know their first democratically elected president's legacy is understood worldwide.
"He was a phenomenal man because of the power of forgiveness," Esme Els said.