U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the nation Thursday after the death of Nelson Mandela, heralding South Africa’s inspirational freedom fighter: “[Mandela] no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages.”
“Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us,” Obama said. “His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better.”
Mandela’s achievement was of great personal significance to Obama, who said his first political action was a protest against apartheid. “The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not their fears,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama praised Mandela’s personal modesty, reiterating what the man known affectionately as Madiba himself insisted: “I’m not a saint, unless you think that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” Obama added that the South African leader “set an example that all humanity could aspire to.”
“For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived,” the President said. “A man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
Many other world leaders mourned the former South African president as well.
South African President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela’s death. “Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love,” he said in a televised address.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who was very close with Mandela, said “all of us are living in a better world because of the life of Madiba,” and that he “proved that a big heart is better than a closed mind.” Clinton tweeted a photograph of himself with the late leader:
U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said “Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us – if we believe, dream and work together,” ITV reports.
Standing outside of 10 Downing Street, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Tonight, a bright light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was not just a hero of our time, but a hero of all time.”
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also chimed in: “[Mandela] made racism everywhere not just immoral but stupid; something not only to be disagreed with, but to be despised. In its place he put the inalienable right of all humankind to be free and to be equal.”
Former President George H.W. Bush said in a written statement, “As President, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment — setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all.”
“He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country,” the former president said.
Former South African president F.W. DeKlerk, the last leader of the country’s apartheid regime, told CNN that Mandela was “a great unifier” and that his “emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy.”
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said, “In his time as President he helped South Africa come to terms with its past, and, through reconciliation, built the foundations for a stronger nation,” The New Zealand Herald reports.
U.S. Congressional leaders paid their respects to Mandela as well. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that Mandela stood as a “permanent reminder to the world of the value of perseverance and the positive influence one good man or woman can have over the course of human affair,” while Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Mandela “inspired the world with his strength and perseverance, with his message of hope and his embrace of freedom. He left us a legacy of love and partnership.” House Speaker John Boehner praised Mandela’s “quiet moral authority” and called him a “champion of peace and racial harmony.”
French President Francois Hollande said in a statement that Mandela’s legacy will endure. “It will continue to inspire fighters for freedom, and to give confidence to peoples in the defense of just causes and universal rights,” he said.