Johannesburg, Dec 6 — Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95. World leaders mourned the death of South Africa’s first black president who India called “a true Gandhian”.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” President Jacob Zuma said while announcing the death of Mandela, who led a peaceful struggle against racial oppression. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
Nobel Laureate Mandela, who served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, had suffered health problems in recent months, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations, reported Xinhua.
Mandela, who India honoured with a Bharat Ratna, was released from hospital in early September following an 85-day stay for a recurring lung infection, the result of his longtime imprisonment during the apartheid period.
Crowds paids tribute to Mandela, dancing and singing in front of his former home in Soweto throughout the night, BBC reported.
Flags flew at half-mast.
Tributes poured in from all over the world.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described him as a “giant among men” and called him “a true Gandhian”.
“…Not only did he represent the conscience of the world, he also remained a beacon of hope for those struggling against oppression and injustice long after he had led his own people to victory over such ills.”
“This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s,” the prime minister said.
US President Barack Obama remembered Mandela as “a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice”.
“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” said Obama.
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life,” said the son of a Kenyan father and an American white mother, who in 2008 himself created history by becoming the first African American President.
Anglican archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu said Mandela had transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his willingness to listen.
“We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory,” he said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said: “We feel deeply aggrieved to know that Mandela, who is much respected by all people around the world, passed away”.
Mandela, who spent three decades in jail and went on to lead a life that was an inspiration, died at his home in a suburb of Johannesburg.
He was a believer in principles of Mahatma Gandhi, who served in South Africa and later went on to lead India to freedom.
“The enemies that (Mahatma) Gandhi fought ignorance, disease, unemployment, poverty and violence are today common place in a country that had the potential to lead and uplift Africa. Today we are faced with the formidable task of reconstructing our country anew.
“Now more than ever is the time when we have to pay heed to the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi,” said Mandela in Pietermaritzburg in June 1993.
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.
The Washington Post compared Mandela, who “brought the world toward a racial reconciliation” to Mahatma Gandhi and American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., both “men of peace, preaching nonviolent resistance to oppression and exploitation.”
“Gandhi, King, Mandela – these, it could be argued, are the figures who will live longest in the public consciousness as we look back on the postwar world,” it said.
The New York Times hailed Mandela as “one of the most extraordinary liberation leaders Africa, or any other continent, ever produced.
“Not only did he lead his people to triumph over the deeply entrenched system of apartheid that enforced racial segregation in every area of South African life; he achieved this victory without the blood bath so many had predicted and feared.”