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World Pays Tribute To Mandela

Nelson Mandela, seen here after his release from prison in 1990.
Nelson Mandela, seen here after his release from prison in 1990.
By RFE/RL
Political leaders, celebrities, and ordinary people around the world have been honoring the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the antiapartheid fighter and pro-democracy icon who has passed away at age 95.

South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela died "peacefully," surrounded by his family, on the evening of December 5 at his Johannesburg home.

Tributes have poured in from around the world, praising Mandela as an inspirational example of how the pursuit of peaceful reconciliation can triumph over decades of injustice.

European leaders, Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Dalai Lama, and a wide range of celebrities and sports stars have issued statements honoring Mandela as one of the 20th century’s most monumental figures.

President Barack Obama has ordered that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff at the White House in honor of Mandela.

Mandela passed away after months of fighting a lung infection.

"Our nation has lost its greatest son," Zuma said in a brief statement announcing the death. "Our people have lost a father. Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss."

Mandela will receive a state funeral at the end of what's expected to be days of official mourning in South Africa.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years before emerging to help guide South Africa toward democracy and away from white minority apartheid rule, in which different races were forcibly segregated.

After his release from imprisonment in 1990, Mandela became South Africa's first black, and first democratically elected, president in all-race elections in 1994.

He is credited with helping prevent the country from falling into civil war after the end of the apartheid regime.

In 1993, Mandela and the white South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work negotiating an end to apartheid. De Klerk said in a statement that "South Africa has lost one of its founding fathers and one of its greatest sons."

The former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu -- another great figure of the antiapartheid struggle -- evoked Mandela's personality at a prayer service.

"God, thank you for the gift of Madiba [Mandela's clan name]," he said. "Thank you for what he has enabled us to know we can become. Help us to become that kind of nation."

PHOTO GALLERY: Nelson Mandela -- A Life In Pictures
  • Nelson Mandela in the early 1960s before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage
  • Antiapartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela, make defiant gestures after being sentenced to life imprisonment in Pretoria in 1964.
  • Nelson Mandela poses with his second wife Winnie on their wedding day in 1957.
  • Nelson and Winnie Mandela raise their fists and salute a cheering crowd upon Nelson's release from prison after 27 years.
  • Nelson Mandela acknowledges the cheers of United Nations delegates during a speech to the UN Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall in June 1990.
  • Nelson Mandela raises his fist to the crowd while making a speech in Port Elizabeth shortly after his release in 1990.
  • Nelson Mandela with then South African President F.W. de Klerk (right) after both men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993
  • Nelson Mandela stares out of the window of the prison cell he occupied on Robben Island for a large portion of his 27-year incarceration in 1994.
  • Nelson Mandela casts his ballot in South Africa's first multiracial elections in April 1994.
  • Nelson Mandela takes his oath of office during his presidential inauguration in Pretoria in May 1994. 
  • Nelson Mandela with Queen Elizabeth II on the first day of his state visit to Britain in 1996.
  • U.S. President Bill Clinton (right) and Nelson Mandela peer through the bars of the cell in which Mandela spent 17 years on Robben Island in March 1998.
  • Nelson Mandela with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1998.
  • Nelson Mandela with Nigerian author Chinua Achebe in 2002.
  • Irish rock star Bono with Nelson Mandela at the latter's residence in Johannesburg in May 2002.
  • U.S. President George W. Bush meets with Nelson Mandela in the Oval Office of the White House in May 2005.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poses for a photograph with Mandela at his home in Qunu in August 2012.
  • Nelson Mandela's third wife, Graca Machel, fixes her husband's hair during the inauguration of Jacob Zuma as South Africa's president in May 2009. 
  • Mandela married Machel on July 18, 1998, his 80th birthday.
  • A sculpture of former President Nelson Mandela that was erected near Durban in August 2012 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mandela's capture by apartheid police


U.S. President Obama said the world had lost one of its "most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings." Obama added that Mandela “belongs to the ages."

"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," Obama said. "So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

"For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived -- a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice."

During his leadership of the African National Congress in the antiapartheid struggle, Mandela had been officially listed as a terrorist by the United States for his support of violence against the racist government.

The United States only formally removed Mandela from its terrorist watch-list in 2008.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Mandela as "a giant for justice" whose "selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom" had inspired many.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Mandela as "one of the greatest politicians in modern times." A Kremlin statement quoted Putin as saying, "Mandela, having gone through the most difficult ordeals, was committed to the end of his days to the ideals of humanism and justice." 

Pope Francis hailed Mandela for "forging a new South Africa" and said he hoped his example would inspire the nation to strive for "justice and the common good."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth said she was "deeply saddened" by the news of Mandela's death.

The world football federation FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also released statements honoring Mandela. IOC President Thomas Bach said Mandela understood the potential of sport to heal divisions.

Mandela won the support of many South African whites when he symbolically wore the jersey of South Africa's mainly white national rugby team during the 1995 rugby World Cup final. The South African squad triumphed in that tournament.

The official mourning in South Africa will start on December 9, with a service at a stadium in Soweto.

Mandela's body will lie in state for three days in the capital, Pretoria, President Jacob Zuma said Mandela will then be buried during a state funeral on December 15 in Qunu, the village in Eastern Cape where he was born.


With reporting from Reuters, AFP and AP

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