Leaders pay tribute to Mandela, ‘great light’ has gone out

As tributes poured from EU and world leaders, Nelson Mandela was hailed on Thursday evening (5 December) as a hero, a 'great light'. The man who led the triumphant fight against apartheid in South Africa and became that country's first black president.

"A great light has gone out in the world," British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote on Twitter. "Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time."

Nelson Mandela, who has passed away at the age of 95, was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office and the first to be elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid and fostering a new era of racial reconciliation.

French President François Hollande said: "Nelson Mandela made history. That of South Africa and the whole world."

"Nelson Mandela's message will not disappear. It will continue to inspire fighters for freedom, and to give confidence to peoples in the defense of just causes and universal rights," Hollande said in a statement.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that "more than anyone else, Nelson Mandela inspired my generation and our world."

In recognition of his struggle, in 1988 he received the first European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought which the European parliamentarians award to honour exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism, racism and oppression.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz  said: "South Africa today loses its father, the world loses a hero. I pay tribute to one of the greatest humans of our time.”

“I wish that the world had more leaders like Nelson Mandela. Goodbye Madiba, your fight lives on in the hearts of millions!" he added.

Beacon of hope for Africa

European liberal party leader, Graham Watson said that Mandela, 'a towering figure' dedicated his entire life to establishing and defending the kind of values that European liberals hold dear.

"Sadly, our planet has seen few figures of the calibre of Nelson Mandela. His tenacity in the face of overwhelming opposition and his unswerving commitment to the value and importance of human dignity and integrity make him an individual unique in history," Watson added.

Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right EPP group in the Parliament, said the world had lost an icon of humanism.

“Nelson Mandela was a model for us all regardless of our origin, race, or beliefs. He embodied the values of forgiveness, courage and responsibility at the highest level. The Group expresses its admiration for Mr Mandela's ideals of humanism and humbleness that he represents for all the citizens of the world,” he said.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the alliance of liberals and democrats (ALDE) in the European Parliament, said Nelson Mandela was a warm personality: "I have had the honour to meet him three times. He was an incredibly impressive man: direct in his interaction with people and very simple”, adding that Mandela was “no less than a beacon of hope for the whole of Africa”. 

Verhofstadt adds that “he knew better than anyone else the potential but also the limits of power. This unique insight is what made him defeat apartheid.” 

In a joint statement, the presidents of the European Council and European Commission said “there is no better way we can honour his memory than by reaffirming our collective commitment to uphold the values of true and deep democracy for which Nelson Mandela fought tirelessly.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, Barack Obama, the first black US president, said Mandela "achieved more than could be expected of any man.”

"Today he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth," Obama said at the White House.

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