LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — World leaders and millions of mourners are finding ways to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela.

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For reporter Scott Kraft that’s easy — it was Feb. 11, 1990, and he was reporting for the Los Angeles Times in South Africa. He stood among thousands in the stadium grounds at Capetown and witnessed Mandela’s first speech as a free man in nearly three decades.

“It was a remarkable day, it was a day of possibilities, but also of tension and concern,” said Kraft, now deputy managing editor at the Times. “People were nervous that it would touch off a race riot or something that would lead to destruction of the country.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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“The atmosphere was really electric and people were reading a lot into everything he said. And it was only over the course of the next few weeks and months and, even, years, that a better sense of where he was coming from became apparent,” Kraft said.

When you think of the task that was in front of him, the monumental task  that was in front of him, could you imagine  anyone else being able to accomplish what he did?” CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Randy Paige said.

First Democratically Elected President of South Africa Nelson Mandela

“I actually can’t. It’s easy to make leaders like this into heroes, and maybe we do it too often, but in Mandela’s case he was remarkable not just on the continent but everywhere,” he said.

Kraft says Mandela appealed to the best in all South Africans and, in doing so, built a bridge over the immense divide separating black and white citizens.

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“The lesson I would take away from his life is having the courage of your convictions. To not let people who wrong you take over you, that if that happens you have surrendered to them. And his ability to embrace his jailers both literally and figuratively; he became friends with some of his jailers. It was remarkable and a lesson for everyone,” Kraft said.