By Dave Clark, AFP
WASHINGTON–The death of South Africa’s liberation leader Nelson Mandela has unleashed a heartfelt chorus of awed respect from across the worlds of politics, religion, sport and culture. Statesmen, resistance leaders, Nobel laureates and prisoners of conscience have died before, but never has one man united such global unity in honoring his passing. Foreshadowing the guest list of what will surely be the most important funeral of recent decades, world leaders queued up to issue solemn tributes to the 95-year-old anti-apartheid hero who became South Africa’s first democratic president. Over and over, leaders returned to the dignity Mandela displayed during his long imprisonment by South Africa’s former racist regime and then later, when he led his country to majority rule. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared Mandela a “giant for justice.” “Many around the world were influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. He touched our lives in deeply personal ways,” Ban told reporters. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who in 2006 apologized for what he said were the “mistakes” of his Conservative Party in its response to apartheid in Britain’s former colony, was also moved. “A great light has gone out in the world,” he said in Downing Street.
“Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death — a true global hero.” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, in China on an official visit, said Mandela would “long be an inspiration to all of humanity” as his government also ordered flags to fly at half-mast. India’s premier Manmohan Singh hailed the anti-apartheid icon as a “true Gandhian” who would continue to inspire future generations after his death, while Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan dubbed Mandela “one of mankind’s greatest liberators.”