Nelson Mandela’s willingness to forgive and forget helped peacefully end an era of white domination in his native South Africa. But as news of his death spread, mourners there and around the world professed that he, himself, would never be forgotten.
“Mandela’s biggest legacy … was his remarkable lack of bitterness and the way he did not only talk about reconciliation, but he made reconciliation happen in South Africa,” said F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president before giving way to Mandela, the country’s first black leader.
South Africa’s current leader announced late Thursday that, after years suffering from health ailments, the man known widely by his clan name of Madiba died at 8:50 p.m. (1:50 p.m. ET) surrounded by family.
He was 95.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” President Jacob Zuma said late Thursday. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
Obama: ‘He belongs to the ages’
“We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth,” said current U.S. President Barack Obama, the first black leader of his own country who said his first public activism was an anti-apartheid protest. “He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.”
Statesman, President, Ambassador to the world
Mandela left the presidency in 1999, but remained one of South Africa’s most respected and revered international ambassadors, a model for world and particularly African leaders.
And a new generation has been introduced to him through movies such as “Invictus” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
The latter film was in the middle of its London premiere when news broke of Mandela’s death, though attendees — Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, among them — didn’t learn about it until producer Anant Singh came onstage as the closing credits ran. He explained that Mandela’s daughters had said the premiere should go on; there then was a moment of silence in Oden Cinema.
“It was as if he was born to teach the age a lesson in humility, in humor and above all else in patience,” said Bono, the U2 singer and Africa activist. “In the end, Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence, but because he learned that love would do a better job.”
His last high-profile public appearance came in 2010, when South Africa hosted soccer’s World Cup. His family members and South African officials have updated the public on his life since, including numerous hospitalizations and his eventual return to his
Mandela has been hailed as a pioneer, a statesman, a hero, someone who maintained his easy smile and demeanor after decades of turmoil. To many South Africans, he was known simply, affectionately as Tata — the word for father in Xhosa tribe.
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human,” said Zuma. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”