World leaders pay tribute to Nelson Mandela

State funeral announced for December 15th with burial at ancestral home

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 16:45

The South African president has announced plans for the State funeral of former president Nelson Mandela who died in his Johannesburg home last night aged 95.

World leaders past and present have paid tribute to the anti-apartheid icon who had been ill with a lung infection for a prolonged period before he died peacefully last night.

Mandela will be laid to rest at his ancestral village of Qunu on December 15th, 700 km south of Johannesburg, in a family plot where three of Mandela’s children and other close family members are buried, South African president Jacob Zuma announced today.


Bill Corcoran in South Africa on reaction to Mandela death

A week of national mourning will include an open-air memorial service at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, the site of the 2010 World Cup final, on December 10th, Mr Zuma said. It expected to be broadcast around the world.

Mr Zuma said that Mr Mandela’s body will lie in state at government buildings in Pretoria in a glass-topped coffin allowing well-wishers to pay their respects from Wednesday until the burial. He said this coming Sunday will be a national day of prayer and reflection.

“We will spend the week mourning his passing. We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived,” Mr Zuma said. The funeral will be attended by world leaders including David Cameron, Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

As the country’s 52 million people absorbed the news that their beloved former president had departed forever, many expressed shock at the passing of a man who was a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

Some feared his death could leave their country vulnerable again to racial and social tensions that he did so much to pacify.

But the mood was not all sombre. Hundreds filled the streets around Mandela’s home in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, many singing songs of tribute and dancing. The crowd included toddlers carrying flowers, domestic workers still in uniform and businessmen in suits.

Many attended church services, including another veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, former archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu. He said that like all South Africans he was “devastated” by Mandela’s death. “Let us give him the gift of a South Africa united, one,” he said, holding a mass in Cape Town’s Anglican St George’s Cathedral.

Among the first to pay tribute was US president Barack Obama who said: “Today he’s gone home, and 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.”

“He achieved more than could be expected of any man. He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages”. Mr Obama said he was “one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Mandela’s life. So long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.”

Pope Francis praised “the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation’s citizens and in forging a new South Africa built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth”.

President Michael D Higgins said Mandela “is one of history’s greatest leaders; a man whose unprecedented courage and dedication broke down the cruel barriers of apartheid in South Africa”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the former South African president had now finished his long walk but his journey had transformed not just his country but humanity itself. “We ask that his spirit continues to inspire, guide and enlighten us as we strive to bring freedom and dignity to the family of man”.

“Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time,” British prime minister David Cameron wrote on Twitter. “A great light has gone out in the world.

“Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration,” UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters. “Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.”

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, who freed Mandela from prison in 1990 and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1993, praised him “as a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did. “This emphasis on reconciliation was his greatest legacy,” de Klerk told CNN.

In a televised address last night, Mr Zuma said: “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. “What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”

A towering figure in 20th century history, Mr Mandela emerged from almost three decades in the prisons of apartheid-era South Africa to become the first black president of a country still struggling to overcome its divisions.

Born in a small village in the eastern Cape, Mr Mandela first became involved in activism against the white minority regime as a young law student. Joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942, he co-founded its Youth League two years later.

After the ANC abandoned its policy of non-violence following the shooting dead of 69 black protesters by police at Sharpeville in 1960, Mr Mandela helped establish its military wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe.

This turn to arms led to the banning of the ANC, and after 17 months on the run, Mr Mandela was arrested and charged with attempting to violently overthrow the government.

In a speech from the dock during his trial, Mr Mandela spoke of his vision for South Africa. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The man many in South Africa refer to by his clan name “Madiba” was sentenced to life in 1964. He spent most of his imprisonment in Robben Island, a notorious maximum security facility on a small island off the coast of Cape Town.

Such was the apartheid regime’s animosity towards Mr Mandela that South African prime minister John Vorster famously said in 1975: “Anyone who wants to talk to me on the basis that Mandela is the leader of black South Africa can forget it.”

In the 1980s, Mr Mandela’s incarceration became a central theme in the global campaign against apartheid as defined by the slogan “Free Nelson Mandela” which was incorporated into several protest songs.

In 1990, the government of then president FW de Klerk responded to growing international pressure by releasing Mr Mandela and lifting the ban against the ANC. Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk were later jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

After his release, Mr Mandela led the ANC in the multi-party negotiations that resulted in South Africa’s first multi-racial elections. Elected president with an overwhelming share of the vote, he went on oversee the country’s delicate transition from minority rule and apartheid.

As Mr Mandela outlined in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, his prison experience helped him reach the conclusion that there could be no democracy without reconciliation. He earned plaudits for his leadership and his willingness to reach out to his former opponents. His lack of bitterness over the long years he spent in jail drew admiration from across the world.

After stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela continued to travel the globe as South Africa’s highest-profile son, meeting leaders and working on conflict resolution elsewhere in Africa.

The fight against Aids was a major concern for him, particularly after his son Makgatho died of the disease in 2005.

Mr Mandela also formed The Elders, a group of prominent figures including Ireland’s former president Mary Robinson, to address some of the world’s most intractable problems.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner had been at ease with his own mortality for many years.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity,” he said in an interview for the 1994 documentary, Mandela.

*“Nelson Mandela: Life and Legacy” an 8-page supplement is included in today’s Irish Times.*

Additional reporting Reuters/Guardian

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