Island resident remembers Mandela fondly

Anna Maria, Fla. – There’s an apparent infectious quality about the goodwill expounded by Nelson Mandela — the mention of his name, a quote, a photo, a story. It’s a message of hope, triumph, struggle, and a universal understanding of humanity, past the barriers of language, religion, politics, skin color and national origin.

“It was really, for me, the greatest personality I’ve ever met. To meet him, gave me goose bumps,” said Markus Siegler owner of Beach Fashion Boutique and Anna Maria Island Real Estate and Guest Services in Anna Maria.

Siegler, in November 2012, came to Anna Maria Island from Switzerland, where he was the director of communications for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the international governing body of soccer. His position in FIFA sent him around the globe, and he met and shook the hands of world leaders.

“That’s how I met him, as a FIFA executive. I think it was three times we met,” Siegler said.

One of the meetings between Mandela and Siegler was a lunch in Zurich in 2003.

Markus Siegler's autographed copy of Nelson Mandela's autobiography is one of the  few possessions he took to the United States when he moved from Switzerland.
Markus Siegler’s autographed copy of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is one of the few possessions he took to the United States when he moved from Switzerland.

“I knew Mandela would be there. I had read his (auto)biography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom,’ while on holiday in South Africa. So I knew him, not personally, but what he had accomplished,” Siegler said. “I have met multimillion dollar football players, heads of state, kings and queens, and I have never asked anyone for an autograph.”

Mandela wrote in the book, “To Markus, Best wishes, Nelson Mandela” in blue ink. The signed biography is one item Siegler brought with him to the United States from Switzerland.

Mandela was born in 1918 in a small village in South Africa. He became the face and the catalyst for the movement against the apartheid regime in his country. For his role as an activist, Mandela was jailed for 27 years. His confinement, meant to discourage Mandela and his cohorts, only strengthened their resolve for equality and democracy in South Africa.

Siegler is convinced Mandela’s “biggest achievement and the one we have to admire most came after his time in prison when he applied the policy of reconciliation in South Africa.”

“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” said Mandela at his 1964 trial as stated in “Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations.” “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela carried the words he expressed in 1964 through his life in actions, until death on Dec. 5.

“What was so striking was his aura. There was no bitterness. He spent 27 years in prison. (At the lunch) he was open, he was joking. He was funny, he liked to laugh and be spontaneous,” Siegler said.

Mandela was released from prison in 1990. Four years later, at age 76, he became the first black, democratically elected president of South Africa.

After Mandela’s death this month, his coffin was placed in almost the same place he took his oath of office.

CNN said the mourning of his death looked similar to Mandela’s election — people of every color and background gathered at the capitol, singing and carrying signs and banners and wearing shirts displaying Mandela’s portrait.

“I was deeply, deeply impressed. I was lucky to have met him. For me, he is one of the greatest in history and I’m not alone in that,” said Siegler, who followed the news from AMI.

Mandela served one five-year term as president and voluntarily stepped down. He forged a democracy and he took to the grave many firsts for South Africa, as well as a Nobel Peace Prize earned with F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, for negotiating the end of the apartheid in South Africa.

President Barack Obama spoke at Mandela’s memorial in Johannesburg Dec. 10: “It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person … How much harder to do so for a giant of history.

He also said, “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.”

This article was originally published in The Islander Dec. 18, 2013.