Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela, a colossus in his lifetime who dismantled the apartheid regime and served as South Africa’s first black president, died at his home here on Friday at the age of 95 after a protracted illness.
Placed on par with civil rights icons Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King and often called the “Gandhi of South Africa”, Mandela was hailed by leaders across the world as a towering personality and a beacon of hope.
He strove hard for a better future for everyone in South Africa and became famous for his fight against poor governance and racial prejudice. As a leader, he was respected for his courage and wisdom in bringing people together to live in peace.
South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the nation to inform them of the passing of Mandela. A sombre Zuma said, “Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed. He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 20:50 on the 5th of December, 2013. He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son.”
Zuma announced that all flags will fly at half-mast from tomorrow until after the state funeral.
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The body of Mandela was taken to a military hospital here as preparations for the December 15 state funeral of the peace icon began.
Escorted by military motorcycle outriders, a black SUV carried Mandela’s coffin, draped in South Africa’s flag, to the military hospital’s morgue from his home.
Mandela will lie in state at the seat of government the Union Buildings in the capital city of Pretoria.
Mandela inspired by Mahatma Gandhi
Born four years after Mahatma Gandhi’s two-decade-long civil rights campaign in South Africa ended in 1914, Mandela was deeply affected by the incident in which the young Gandhi was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg.
Mandela was inspired by Gandhi in his long struggle and often turned to his ideals in his bid to defeat the oppressive apartheid regime.
A recipient of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 1990, Mandela was getting medical care at his home in the suburb of Houghton here since September, after three months in a Pretoria hospital for a recurrent lung ailment.
Madiba, the clan name by which Mandela was lovingly called by South Africans, was born Rolihlala Dalibhunga Mandela July 18, 1918, in the village of Mvezo on the banks of river Mbashe in Transkei, South Africa, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the acting king of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
Mandela was elected the first black president in the first open election in South Africa April 29, 1994, and assumed office May 10 that year.
In 1999 he stepped down from the office after serving one term.
He married his present wife, Graca Mandela, in 1998, after his first two marriages to Evelyn and Winnie had ended in divorce in 1958 and 1996 respectively.
South Africans ‘celebrate’ Mandela’s life
Hundreds of South Africans across the country huddled in groups from early this morning to mourn the death of Mandela. In the black township of Soweto, the scene of a student uprising in 1976 that was brutally crushed, people gathered near the house where Mandela once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his life.
The mourners, draped in the green, yellow and black flags of Mandela’s ANC party, formed a circle and sang songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. They said they were celebrating Mandela’s life.
Outside Mandela’s home in the leafy suburb of Houghton, the mood was lively and not sombre as some mourners sang and a man blew on a vuvuzela, the plastic horn used in World Cup soccer games.
Mandela, a lawyer and ex-boxer, spent 27 years in prison, most of them on Robben Island, after being convicted in the Rivonia trial with several others 50 years ago.
He stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as President following the first democratic elections in 1994.
As president, Mandela worked to unite a polarised South Africa dominated by tribal politics. He devoted his energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.
World bows in respect to Mandela
Nelson Mandela worked his magic once more on Friday, uniting friends and foes alike in a global outpouring of grief as they mourned the death of the anti-apartheid icon.
Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all joined together to remember a man whose message of equality inspired millions across the globe.
Foreshadowing the guest list of what will surely be the most important funeral of recent decades, foreign dignitaries as well as celebrities, sports figures and religious leaders queued to issue solemn tributes to the 95-year-old peace hero who became South Africa’s first democratic president.
“He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages,” Barack Obama, America’s first black president, said in a deliberate echo of an early tribute paid to Abraham Lincoln, the president who emancipated the slaves.
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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared Mandela a “giant for justice”.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who in 2006 apologised for what he said were the “mistakes” of his Conservative Party in its response to apartheid in Britain’s former colony, said: “A great light has gone out in the world”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the former statesman as “one of the greatest politicians in modern times” and China’s President Xi Jinping honoured his “historic contribution” to South Africa and the world.
India pays tribute to Mandela
India paid rich tributes to anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela, who passed away Thursday after a prolonged illness.Both houses of parliament were adjourned for the day after paying homage to the Nobel laureate, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing him as a “giant among men” and “a true Gandhian”.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari also condoled the death of the iconic fighter for justice whose 27 years in prison turned the anti-apartheid fight into a global campaign.
In a piece written for Time magazine in 2000, Mandela noted that the Father of the Indian Nation’s non-violent struggle had its roots in South Africa.
“India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen. Both countries contributed to his intellectual and moral genius, and he shaped the liberatory movements in both colonial theaters,” Mandela wrote about Gandhi, whom he referred to as “The Sacred Warrior”.