Tuesday 23 January 2018

Tributes pour in for the prisoner who became president and unified country

Raf Sanchez in Washington and Matthew Holehouse in London

President Barack Obama led the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela last night, calling the South African leader "a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice".

Speaking less than an hour after Mr Mandela's death was announced, Mr Obama said the 95-year-old's life had inspired his own historic path to the White House.

"And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set," Mr Obama said. "And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him."

Mr Mandela had already been sentenced to life imprisonment by the time Mr Obama was born in 1964, but the two men will be linked in history as the first black leaders of nations with histories scarred by racism.

"Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us," Mr Obama said, using the name by which most South Africans know their former leader. "His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better."

White House aides said Mr Obama was likely to travel to South Africa to attend Mr Mandela's funeral.

Mr Obama's tributes were echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron: "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death - a true global hero."

South Africa's archbishop emeritus, Desmond Tutu, lauded his compatriot and fellow Nobel peace laureate. "Over the past 24 years, Madiba taught us how to come together and to believe in ourselves and each other. He was a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison," he said. "We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory."

The Archbishop dismissed those who have long predicted South Africa will fall apart after Mandela's death. "To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames - as some have predicted - is to discredit South Africans and Madiba's legacy," he said. "The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next ... It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on."

Former South African president FW de Klerk, who played a key role in the rapprochement between South Africa's apartheid leadership and the man who was to be his successor, said: "We had our moments of tension ... but after our retirement and at times during our presidency we became very close. He was a remarkable man. His biggest legacy will be emphasis on reconciliation, his remarkable lack of bitterness. And he didn't only talk about reconciliation he lived for reconciliation. He was a great unifier."

Bill Clinton, who occupied the White House when Mr Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994, had the closest relationship with him of any of the living US presidents.

"Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings, and Hillary, Chelsea and I have lost a true friend," Mr Clinton said. "We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life."

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, said: "I will never forget his selflessness and deep sense of shared purpose."

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