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Trip reaffirms South Africa's beauty

South Africa is a beautiful part of the world. Its people, its varying and rich cultures and its geography are wonderful examples of God's awesome work. South Africa as a constitutional democracy is less than 20 years old. It is full of promise, and I pray that the promise will be realized in meaningful, concrete and sustainable ways.

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Dougherty County Commissioner Gloria Gaines was co-chair of an Atlanta-based anti-apartheid movement that targeted mistreatment of blacks by South Africa's minority-ruled government even before she first visited the African nation in 1993. Gaines has since made 11 more trips to South Africa, including one she returned from July 9.

For almost three weeks in June and July, I again experienced the beauty of this nation, from its southernmost tip at Capetown and Robben Island, to the sprawling metropolis of Johannesburg and to Kruger National Park on the northern border with Mozambique. It was probably my 12th trip since 1993 when I first journeyed there to lend a hand in whatever way I could to help nurture the emerging democracy that would be ushered in a year later with the election of the Honorable Nelson Mandela. Over the years, I had the special privilege to meet or become friends with many of the icons who fueled the freedom struggle that led to the end of apartheid in 1994, including Mr. Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, past President Thabo Mbeki, current President Jacob Zuma and my dearest friend, Ambassador Tandi Luthuli Gcabashe.

This trip was especially personal for me. I was accompanied by my sister, Donna. We were there to visit with her daughter, Malendie, who is in a two-month internship as a part of a doctoral program in epidemiology. What is so remarkable about my niece's internship is that when we took her first to South Africa in 1999 as a 10-year-old, we attended one of the retirement celebrations for Mr. Mandela. As he walked in the very large room full of many adoring citizens and visitors, he stopped at Malendie's table and talked to her about her future. She never forgot that moment and worked very hard in her studies toward an opportunity to return. She has done well and our family is so proud.

I must mention that while there is much beauty in South Africa, there is much challenge facing this struggling nation. Much more progress is needed in providing access to good education, jobs, housing, economic opportunity and individual empowerment.

God created a beautiful land and a beautiful people. I believe, given time and hard work, the world will witness a beautiful society and nation. It is always spiritually reaffirming to see the vastness and beauty of humankind.