With flags lowered to half-staff a dozen doves were released into the sky as crowds of South Africans gathered at homemade shrines Friday to mourn the loss of their former president, Nelson Mandela, the man many call the father of their nation.
Since yesterday’s headlines read, Nelson Mandela Dead at 95, tributes have continuously poured in from around the world, tributes from both leaders and average citizens, all heralding the life of the former Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid leader.
President Jacob Zuma said that Mandela, who was affectionately known by his clan name “Madiba,” had died “peacefully” at around 8:50 p.m., while in the company of his family. Throughout the year, Mandela had been receiving medical care at his home, where he had been in critical condition due to a lung infection.
A black SUV containing Mandela’s coffin pulled away from Mandela’s home after midnight, draped in South Africa’s flag and escorted by military motorcycle outriders to take the leader’s body to a military morgue in the capital of Pretoria.
South Africans are honoring the life of Mandelaaround the Soweto home where Mandela had once lived, as well as the Johannesburg home where he died, by dancing and singing tribal songs, the African national anthem, and Christian hymns. Many left flowers, candles, and signs in homemade shrines.
South African citizens across the nation honored Mandela with prayers and promises to adhere to the principles and values of unity and democracy that Mandela live by.
President Zuma ordered all flags to fly at half –staff until Mandela is laid to rest at his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on December 15. The funeral for Mandela will take place at the end of a week of national mourning, including an open-air memorial service at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium on December 10, according to a Reuters report.
Leaders and dignitaries from around the world are expected to pay their respects to the former president.
President Obama called him one of the “most influential, courageous and profoundly good” people to ever have lived. “He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” Obama said, in his comments from the White House, adding: “He no longer belongs to us, He belongs to the ages.”
Obama ordered U.S. flags to be lowered immediately to half-staff until Monday evening in tribute to Mandela.
During church service in Cape Town the retired archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who is also a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said Mandela would want South Africans themselves to be his “memorial” by adhering to the principles and values of unity and democracy that he fought his whole life to establish.
“All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration,” Tutu said, remembering that Mandela unified South Africa as it reforms the apartheid state, which was the cruel system of white minority rule.
Instead of dividing and punishing the apartheid rulers and sympathizers, Mandela fought for a South Africa that included all races. Tutu recalled Mandela and the nation preparing for all-race elections in 1994. In those elections, the anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years in prison, became South Africa’s first black president.
“God, thank you for the gift of Madiba,” said Tutu in his closing his prayer.
The grandson of the South African icon, Mandla Mandela, said he takes solace in knowing that his grandfather is finally at rest.
“All that I can do is thank God that I had a grandfather who loved and guided all of us in the family,” Mandla Mandela said in a statement. “The best lesson that he taught all of us was the need for us to be prepared to be of service to our people.”
“We in the family recognize that Madiba belongs not only to us but to the entire world. The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us,” the grandson said.
Zelda la Grange, who was Mandela’s personal assistant for almost 2 decades, said Mandela inspired people to forgive for past discrections, reconcile with your enemies, care for all, be selfless, tolerant to all, and to maintain dignity at all tomes no matter the challenge.
“His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country, but particularly how we relate to one another,” she said in a statement.
Many South Africans considered Mandela a father to all people who inspired the world with his courage. “He came here to Soweto as a lawyer and he led us. When he came out of jail in 1994, after 27 years, he did not come out a bitter man and encourage us to fight. No, he came out with a message of peace,” said Mbulelo Radebe, 37.
Leaders around the world joined in praising Mandela, calling him a force for justice and towering figure who inspired people around the globe.
“Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters, Reuters reported. “Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.”
Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Mandela as a “unique political figure at a unique moment” in history.
“Through his leadership, he guided the world into a new era of politics in which black and white, developing and developed, north and south, despite all the huge differences in wealth and opportunity, stood for the first time together on equal terms,” Blair said.
Former President Jimmy Carter, who had personal relationships with Mandela, said the people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have lost a great leader. President Carter, if nothing else, attempted to base U.S. foreign policy on the principle of human rights around the globe. He may have had better results, but he shared in many of the same goals with Nelson Mandela.
“His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide,” Carter said.
F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, said he and Mandela first met each other in 1989 and concluded they could do business with each other as the country embarked on its long-awaited transition to democratic rule.
“Although we were political opponents — and although our relationship was often stormy — we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process,” de Klerk said in a statement.
Human rights advocate George Bizos told eNCA television that Mandela, a longtime friend, never wavered in his dedication to non-racial and democratic ideals.
“He was larger than life,” Bizos said. “We will not find another like him.”