Mandela ‘belongs to the ages’ - Obama

International reaction: Cameron says South African leader ‘a hero of our time’

US president Barack Obama pauses while speaking about former South African President Nelson Mandela following the announcement of his death. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

US president Barack Obama pauses while speaking about former South African President Nelson Mandela following the announcement of his death. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 06:12

US president Barack Obama paid tribute to Nelson Mandela last night, saying that the former South African leader had achieved more than could be expected of any man.

“We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth,” he said.

“He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages.”

Reflecting on Mr Mandela’s life and legacy in an address at the White House, Mr Obama said that “his journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.”

“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire whether in the lives of nations or in our own personal lives,” he said.

“The fact that he did it with grace and good humour and ability to acknowledge his own imperfections only makes the man that much more remarkable.”

Speaking about how Mr Mandela had personally inspired him, the president said that his first political action was to protest against apartheid in South Africa.

“I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they are guided by their hopes and not by their fears,” he said.

“Like so many around the globe, I could not 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.”

British prime minister David Cameron said the world had lost a great light following the death of Mr Mandela.

“ The flag at No 10 will be flown at half-mast in honour of the former leader, who was a ‘hero of our time’,” he said on Twitter.

“A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I’ve asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half mast.”

South Africa’s last white president F.W. de Klerk said Mr Mandela’s greatest accomplishment was to unify South Africa and push for reconciliation between blacks and whites in the post-apartheid era.

“He was a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did. This emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy,” Mr de Klerk said in an interview with CNN after the announcement of Mr Mandela’s death.

Mr De Klerk, who released Mandela from prison in 1990 and then negotiated the end of apartheid, called Mr Mandela a “humane” and “compassionate” man who was able to understand the fears of South Africa’s white minority in the transition to democracy.

Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for ending minority white rule and laying the foundations of democracy.

French president Francois Hollande said Mr Mandela had made history during his life.

“That of South Africa and the whole world. Nelson Mandela’s message will not disappear,” he said. “It will continue to inspire fighters for freedom, and to give confidence to peoples in the defense of just causes and universal rights.”