Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner who became the first president of a post-apartheid South Africa and whose heroic life and towering moral stature made him one of history’s most influential statesmen, died Dec. 5, the government announced. He was 95.
The death was announced in a televised address by President Jacob Zuma, who added, “we’ve lost our greatest son.” No cause was provided.
In an extraordinary lifetime, Nelson Mandela first won a national political position in the African National Congress when President Eisenhower was still in office. Though he spent nearly three decades in prison, his stature never waned.
Nelson Mandela has routinely been among the “most admired” people in the world, according to decades of Gallup polls. In annual polls going back to 1946, Mandela has been among the top 10 people mentioned 20 times. The only other non-U.S. presidents to exceed that are Bill Graham (finished in the top 10 56 times, most of anyone) and Pope Jon Paul II (27 top 10 finishes).
The news about Mandela had been out for a little more than half an hour before the New Yorker quickly posted the cover of its next issue:
— Slade Sohmer (@SladeHV) December 5, 2013
“Madiba,” the image that will adorn the Dec. 16 issue, was drawn by Kadir Nelson.
President Obama praised Nelson Mandela as someone who “bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
“He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” Obama said. “He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages.”
Recalling that his own political career began with a campus protest against apartheid, Obama said, “I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life.”
The fact that Mandela was eventually released from prison, the president added, “gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not their own fears.”
Obama emphasized that he and others will have to accept the fact that no other political leader will have the same qualities that made the South African leader so exceptional: “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”
President George W. Bush has issued a statement on Mandela’s death: “President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever.”
The movie “Invictus” captured Mandela’s knack for small gestures, symbolism and reconciliation. Recognizing that rugby was wildly popular among white Afrikaners as well as many other South Africans, he reached out to the team captain and helped inspire the team to victory in world competition. In the movie, Matt Damon plays the team captain Francois Pienaar and Morgan Freeman plays Mandela. (Both were nominated for Oscars.)
Here is the real life Pienaar recalling Mandela:
After the African National Congress was banned in 1960, Mandela became the first commander-in-chief of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, literally “spear of the nation.” In its first 18 months, the group carried out about 150 acts of sabotage. But the South African police raided Umkhonto’s headquarters north of Johannesburg and captured Mandela on an isolated stretch of road in the province of Natal.
Now, an unusual sculpture of Mandela has been erected in the remote town of Howick, about 55 miles south of Durban, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his capture there on August 5, 1962. Designed by artist Marco Cianfanelli, the unique sculpture is more than 30 feet tall and made from 50 steel columns anchored in concrete to evoke his years in prison.
Mandela paid several visits to Washington, as the Post’s Martin Weil recounts:
Over the years, Nelson Mandela paid several visits to Washington, drawing admiring crowds, appearing on the most prominent stages in the city and the nation, and leaving listeners on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue certain that they had been in the presence of greatness….
Welcomed to the White House by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the president on the south lawn, and heard himself described as a man “who embodies the hopes of millions.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray issued a statement a short time ago praising Mandela’s legacy:
“I extend my deepest sympathies to the family of President Mandela and the nation of South Africa,” Gray said in the statement. “His astute diplomacy, his tireless dedication to justice and his deep commitment to non-violent resistance and reconciliation laid the foundation for countless leaders worldwide. Nelson Mandela’s profound legacy will forever inspire all who fight for human rights and peace around the globe.”
Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Twitter that the flag at No. 10 Downing Street would be flown at half mast:
A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half mast.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) December 5, 2013