Jerry Holt, a 1983 graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi’s photojournalism program and longtime member of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune photo staff, recently reflected on his coverage of the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa.
Holt was part of a news team the Star-Tribune sent to South Africa to cover the historic event, in which non-whites were allowed for the first time to vote in a presidential election. Mandela, who died Dec. 5, is the icon of the country’s anti-apartheid movement and was imprisoned for 27 years on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
“We worked on stories about how different groups of people, including blacks, whites, Asians, Indians, would be affected by the outcome of the election, depending on who won,” Holt said. “We also covered the inauguration, which included dignitaries and heads of state from all over the world.”
Holt marveled at the long lines people stood in, often for several hours, to be able to vote in the election. “I consider it the most important assignment of my career, and I’m grateful to the Star-Tribune for the opportunity," he said. "It was a real privilege to witness history.”
Holt, a native of Cleveland, Miss., learned at an early age about the accomplishments of civil rights leaders in his own state and country, and came to admire the work of Mandela to secure the same freedoms for his own people.
He said he was especially impressed that Mandela held no grudges toward those who imprisoned him for his work to bring equality to his country, instead advancing a political agenda that included reconciliation.
“A lot of people paid a heavy price in South Africa and the United States to be free and live in peace with each other, and the fact that he spent all that time in prison and didn’t come out hating his oppressors - I don’t see how you can’t be a fan of someone like that.”