The world pays tribute to a great man

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” – Nelson Mandela

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

“For a revolution is not just a question of pulling a trigger; its purpose is to create a fair just society”
(Images: ANC archives)

“When Nelson Mandela was released, he surprised everyone because he was talking about reconciliation and forgiveness and not about revenge.”
(Image: Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation)

When Nelson Mandela stood on the steps of the Union Buildings on 10 May 1994, South Africa was a divided, scared and angry country. Instead of seeking revenge for his years in prison and the oppression of his people, he extended his hand and began the journey of uniting this diverse country into a nation. Through sheer strength of character and the warmth of his personality he took the country from the brink of war to the blossoming of hope.

As a nation South Africa mourns the father of the Rainbow Nation, but the outpouring of grief from around the world shows that this man who – in the words of President Barack Obama – “bent history towards justice” was a global inspiration. Through his actions, his humour and his long-held “ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve”, made him a hero of the world.

Tributes have come from far and wide following his death. “He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 8.50pm on December 5,” President Jacob Zuma announced to a devastated nation. “He is now resting, he is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son.”

From the politicians

President Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, hailed Mandela as an inspiration, a man whose life and personal sacrifices set Obama on the road to the Oval Office. As a young law student in Chicago, he read Mandela’s writings and his release from prison gave Obama “a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears”.

“Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him,” he said.

When Mandela was elected president, Bill Clinton was in the White House. He and Mandela had the closest friendship of any living US president. Clinton praised a true friend and important leader. “We [wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea] 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.”

In his message of condolence to the people of South Africa, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan mourned the passing of a great liberator. “Mandela will always be remembered and honoured by all mankind as one of its greatest liberators, a wise, courageous and compassionate leader, and an icon of true democracy.”

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and a member of the Elders, recalled that in old age he had become frailer but his voice was as strong as ever when he wanted to emphasise an issue of injustice, or remind us to listen to those on the margins and those who suffered. “There are so many ways that we will remember Nelson Mandela. His determination and courage in fighting for justice for his people, his moral authority, not least in his forgiveness of his former guards, and his valuing of diversity in all aspects of the new South Africa. From all who ever had contact with him, he commanded enormous respect.”

In February 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon tried to thank Mandela for his life’s work, only for Madiba to insist that the credit belonged to others. “I will never forget his selflessness and deep sense of shared purpose. Only because of such a great man like Nelson Mandela is it possible that particular people in Africa and elsewhere are able to enjoy freedom and human dignity. We have to learn the wisdom and determinations and commitment of Mr Mandela to make this world better for all.”

American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said that Mandela’s legacy would be everlasting. “Nelson Mandela was a giant of immense and unwavering intellect, courage and moral authority. He chose reconciliation over retaliation. He challenged the course of history.”

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, herself no stranger to oppression and persecution, and like Mandela a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, wrote: “He made us all understand that nobody should be penalised for the colour of his skin, for the circumstances into which he is born. He also made us understand that we can change the world – we can change the world by changing attitudes, by changing perceptions. For this reason I would like to pay him tribute as a great human being who raised the standard of humanity.”

In Glasgow, Scotland, the first city in the world to honour Mandela with the Freedom of the City, flags will be flying at half-mast until after his funeral; residents have also been invited to sign a condolence book. Lord Provost George Adam of Aberdeen, Scotland, said: “There are not many people who could say they changed the world, but Nelson Mandela was one of them. Faced with the fiercest oppression, he refused to give up fighting for the most basic of human rights.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, or Irish prime minister, was most poetic: “The name Mandela stirred our conscience and our hearts,” Kenny said. “It became synonymous with the pursuit of dignity and freedom across the globe. Today, a great light has been extinguished. The boy from the Transkei has finished his long walk. His journey transformed not just South Africa, but humanity itself.”

From the entertainers

The life and work of Mandela inspired many in the world of entertainment. His influence stretched from music – The Specials’ Free Nelson Mandela – to fictional grandchildren on the Cosby Show being named after him. Entertainers were among the first to share their grief through official statements or on social media.

Oscar-winning South African-born actress Charlize Theron tweeted: “My thoughts and love go out to the Mandela family. Rest in Peace Madiba. You will be missed, but your impact on this world will live forever.”

Morgan Freeman, the American actor who played Mandela in 2009 in the film Invictus, reflected. “Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honour, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve — a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind. As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we’ve come, but on how far we have to go. Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us.”

American actress and co-founder of Artists for a New South Africa, Alfre Woodard said: “I am mourning deeply the passing on of my elder and cherished friend Nelson Mandela. He is more than an icon. He was a delightful human being, with a rich sense of humour and a big generous laugh. I am recommitting my life to the insistence on justice that living in the time of Mandela has inspired in me. I will miss you, Tata.”

Idris Elba, the British star of the latest film on his life, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, said: “What an honour it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world.”

Bono, the Irish rock star and anti-poverty activist who has campaigned in many African countries, said: “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 learnt that love would do a better job.”

American comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, remembered Mandela’s graciousness and support when their son, Ennis, was murdered. “Moreover, it was an honour to sit alongside him on the bed of his former prison cell; as he triumphantly spoke about his survival and the courage of his supporters.”

Soul singer Aretha Franklin, also an American, said: “Most extraordinary was how he rose above his being imprisoned and exalted himself above apartheid and hatred to unite the country, an unbelievable example of humanitarianism and courage.”

From the sports field

South African sports bodies acknowledged his role on returning South African sport to the international fold. Cricket South Africa said on its official Twitter account: “RIP Tata Mandela. It is because of you that a represented Proteas team can express their talent across the globe #mandela.”

The South African Rugby Union chief executive, Oregan Hoskins, said: “Through his extraordinary vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa’s historic first democratic election.”

Francois Pienaar, who captained the Springboks when they won that championship, hoped “…that people remember him for his humility, his selflessness and that he really cared. He wanted to build South Africa for everyone where everybody has a better future.”

John Smit, the most-capped Springbok in history, tweeted: “A day we knew was coming but hoped never would, a man we didn’t have for long enough but left a lifelong legacy. Madiba we will never forget.”

World number golfer Tiger Woods said: “I got a chance to meet him with my father [Earl] back in ’98. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the most inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life.”

In Australia, the English and Australian cricket teams donned black armbands and observed a minute’s silence before resuming their Ashes Test match. FIFA president Sepp Blatter mourned a friend and announced that all 209 members of FIFA would fly their flags at half-mast to honour Madiba. FIFA will also observe a minute’s silence at all international matches.

Brazilian football legend Pele said: “He was my hero, my friend, and also a companion to me in our fight for the people and for world peace.”

Former Dutch international footballer Ruud Gullit mourned “…a great loss of a great man. I am so proud that I had some moments with you. Thank you Madiba.”

Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany wrote: “RIP Nelson Mandela. No words to describe the goodness you have brought to this world. Sad to see you go. Inspirational, my only ever hero.”

And from the religious leaders

To members of the religious community, Mandela was more than a politician; he was a spiritual leader. His loss is deeply mourned by religious leaders of all faiths. In the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu: “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.”

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: “I will remember Nelson Mandela not only for his courage and his ideals. Rather I will remember him for the great example he gave of the power of forgiveness. And from his forgiveness great hope grew.”

The Right Reverend Lorna Hood, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland said: “Nelson Mandela was a towering figure of the 20th century whose strength, courage and determination are only matched by his grace and ability to forgive. Emerging from prison after 27 years in Robben Island, without bitterness or a call for revenge, he led by example believing that the only hope for his country was the reconciliation of all people regardless of their colour or creed.”

In a statement on his website, the Dalai Lama reminded the world that, “the best tribute we can pay to him is to do whatever we can to contribute to honouring the oneness of humanity and working for peace and reconciliation as he did”.

Indeed, he shall be missed, but his legacy will live on.