St. Croix native was in South Africa the day Nelson Mandela died


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ST. THOMAS - For years, Edric Anthony Robinson wanted to visit South Africa.

When a good deal coincided with his birthday, he took a leap and booked the trip.

He had no idea he would be in Nelson Mandela's home town when the world learned of Mandela's death.

"I think even though people knew that he wasn't well for a long period of time, people were still shocked," Robinson said.

Robinson is from St. Croix and grew up learning about Mandela and his legacy. When the World Cup took place in South Africa in 2010, he decided he had to go.

Robinson finally got the chance when he and a friend flew out of New York, where he currently lives, on Thanksgiving Day. They stayed in a hotel in Soweto and visited all the Mandela-related sites, Mandela's home, his wife Winnie's home, the Apartheid Museum.

On their last day in Soweto, a cab driver told them the news: Mandela had died.

They wanted to go back out to Mandela's home, where throngs of people were gathering and celebrating, but they had a flight to catch.

Mandela's death caused many Soweto residents to reflect on what the nation's former leader meant to them, and Robinson had several interesting conversations with residents before making his way to the airport.

"Me and my friend went and had this long conversation with one of the hotel attendants about it," Robinson said.

The man spoke to them about the country's history and what it was like during apartheid.

He recounted stories from his boyhood days when his parents taught him which doors to use, and how once they went to a place where there was a white's only bathroom, but no bathroom at all for them.

So many tragedies from apartheid have never been documented, the man told Robinson.

"He was expressing to me how much more the country has to grow," Robinson said. "It kind of summed up the trip."

Robinson said he saw people crying for the loss of Mandela, but he also saw jubilation.

"Some people that we met on that day were very religious, and it was more of a celebration that he was transitioning to heaven," Robinson said. "It was very surreal for us to be over there and be in the midst of all this that was happening."

During his trip, Robinson also talked to tour guides and residents and heard their personal stories about living in South Africa under apartheid.

When Robinson visited the poorest areas of Soweto, the extreme living conditions stuck in his mind, he said.

"I'm glad I did it now more than ever," Robinson said. "It was just a great experience, and I've been encouraging everyone to go."

In the Virgin Islands, people also took to the streets to remember Mandela's influence on the world and on the territory. A crowd of people gathered in St. Thomas' Mandela Circle with signs and flowers, asking motorists to honk to support Mandela.

Sunday, two events are planned to honor Mandela's memory.

On St. Thomas, the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John is holding a clean-up of Mandela Circle. Volunteers will meet at 9 a.m. in the Pueblo parking lot near the Natural Food store. Bags, gloves and water will be provided.

For more information, contact east.activies@gmail.com or call 201-9993.

On St. Croix, Sen. Terrence Nelson is organizing a drum circle and memorial service for Mandela at noon Sunday in Buddhoe Park in Frederiksted.

Drummers, poets, spoken-word performers, preachers, teachers, African dancers and anyone who has something to contribute can come and participate, he said.

For more information about the St. Croix event, call 712-2210.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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