WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama paid rich tributes to the memory of Nelson Mandela at the passing of the iconic leader Thursday, saying the courageous life of former South African president has been an inspiration for him.
Appearing in the White House press room after the news of Mandela’s passing away, Obama, the first ever African American president of the United States, recalled Mandela’s closing statement at his trial in 1964.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. 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,” Obama read out Mandela’s words.
“Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages,” Obama added.
In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma announced the demise of Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa from the clutches of apartheid to a multi-racial democracy. In his epic struggle, Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades and his unflinching struggle and commitment made him an international icon of peace and reconciliation. He died at the age of 95.
Meanwhile, in Washington, after the news of Mandela’s death broke, his admirers placed flowers and lit candles at the base of a statue of Mandela outside the South African embassy.
In his statement, Obama, who met Mandela once in person in 2005 as U.S. senator, said “through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Mandela transformed South Africa — and moved all of us.”
In reference to South African leader’s long imprisonment and political struggle, Obama noted that Manela’s journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better.
“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they are guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, 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.”
To the people of South Africa, the U.S. president said “we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real. A free South Africa at peace with itself — that’s an example to the world, and that’s Mandela’s legacy to the nation he loved.”
“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.
“For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace,” Obama concluded.