10 December 2013
Nelson Mandela was a “giant for justice”, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg on Monday.
Ban, who was due to join some 70 heads of state at the memorial service for Mandela at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium on Tuesday, said Mandela’s “principled stand in defense of the fundamental equality of all human beings was decisive in dismantling the system of apartheid.
“His remarkable compassion upon his release from prison after 27 years set South Africa immediately on a path of dialogue and reconciliation,” Ban said. “He was a giant for justice, equality and human rights.”
Mandela died last Thursday after a long battle with a lung infection. The late human rights lawyer, prisoner of conscience, international peacemaker and first democratically elected president of South Africa was 95.
Ban said Mandela was more than one of the world’s greatest leaders. “He was a teacher, and he taught and practised by example.”
Recalling the first time he met Mandela, during an official visit to South Africa in February 2009, Ban said he had “wanted to say a few words of thanks for what he was doing for humanity. [Mandela’s] response has stayed with me ever since. He said: ‘Well, it’s not only me, there were hundreds and hundreds of known and unknown people who fought for the same cause.
“I was so deeply moved and touched. What he said has guided me ever since,” Ban said. “The people of South Africa and the whole world have lost a hero. May Nelson Mandela rest in peace.”
The secretary-general also visited Mandela’s residence, where he offered his condolences to the former president’s family.