Nelson Mandela: 'The icon of all icons'

Former South African president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in 2007. Pic: AP

Nelson Mandela, the pioneering president who helped to end apartheid in South Africa, has died at the age of 95.

The news was announced by South African president Jacob Zuma, who said: “Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation has departed.

“He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”

He said all of South Africa’s thoughts were with Mr Mandela’s family, friends, and those who fought alongside him during his struggle for equality.

“Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who more than any other came to embody their sense of a common nation,” he said from Pretoria.

“Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own and who saw his cause as their cause.

“This is the moment of our deepest sorrow. Our nation has lost his greatest son. Yet what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human — we saw in him what we seek in ourselves and in him we saw so much of ourselves.”

He said the man known as Madiba brought South Africa together and would be afforded a state funeral. South African flags would be lowered to half mast until then, he said.

“As we gather to pay our last respects, let us conduct ourselves with the dignity and respect that Madiba personified,” he said.

“Let us be mindful of his wishes and the wishes of his family as we gather wherever we are in the country and wherever we are in the world.

“Let us recall the values for which Madiba fought. Let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another.”

He finished by saying simply: “We will always love you Madiba. May your soul rest in peace. God bless Africa.”

Mr Mandela was the country’s first black president and is known throughout the world for his anti-apartheid stance and led the nation’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison.

The statesman had been receiving medical care for a lung infection at his home, where hundreds last night gathered ahead of rumours of his ill-health and where he was staying following a three-month hospital stay.

Since his hospital release, the South African presidency described Mr Mandela’s condition as critical but stable, although rumours were this week circulated that he was on his death bed.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994. A politician whose family fled South Africa because of their support for Mr Mandela’s cause described the late great former South African president as the “icon of all icons”.

News of Mr Mandela’s death was also met with great sadness in Wales — where the father-of-five’s fight against oppression struck a chord with many. Among those spearheading the tributes there was Neath MP Peter Hain.

He said there had long been a bond between Wales and Madiba — and cited the anti-apartheid demonstrations against the then all-white Springboks rugby team’s game in Swansea in 1969.

The former Welsh secretary also fondly recalled the former president’s first and only visit to Wales back in 1998 — when he was awarded the Freedom of Cardiff. He said: “Cardiff that day experienced a vintage Mandela performance.

“He ignored my guiding arm on his elbow and stopped at a group of primary school children sparkling in Welsh national dress.

“As the queue of VIPs waited, sweating in the unusually hot weather, he began conducting the children to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. I later learned that it was the absence of his children that he missed most in all his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island.”

‘A great light has been extinguished’

“Mandela achieved more than can be expected of any man. Today he has gone home. He no longer belongs to us, he now belongs to the ages. Through his fierce urgency and unbending will, Madiba transformed South Africa and all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better... I can’t imagine my life without the example Mandela set” — US President Barack Obama

“The name Mandela stirred our conscience and our hearts. It became synonymous with the pursuit of dignity and freedom across the globe. Today, a great light has been extinguished” — Taoiseach Enda Kenny

“Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time” — British prime minister David Cameron

“Nelson Mandela showed us what is possible in our world... His moral force was decisive in dismantling the system of apartheid” — UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon

“Perhaps the greatest lesson, especially for young people, is that, while bad things do happen to good people, we still have the freedom and responsibility to decide how to respond to injustice, cruelty and violence and how they will affect our spirits, hearts and minds” — Former US president Bill Clinton

“As we mourn the passing of this extraordinary man, we can honour him best by giving of ourselves to others” — Former Irish president Mary Robinson

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