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Obama, former Presidents, world leaders honor Nelson Mandela will attend funeral

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As the world's nations and their leaders mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 after a lengthy illness late Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 flags all over the world were ordered to fly at half mast. Present and past world leaders honored Mandela's memory and legacy in released or spoken statements and are making plans to attend his formal state funeral to be held in South Africa with the official memorial on Tuesday, Dec. 10 and the state funeral and burial on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Among those leaders issuing statements were US President Barack Obama, all living former US Presidents, and Canadian, British and Israeli leaders.

Mandela was the former South African President and anti-Apartheid leader, who spent 27 years in prison for his activism and fight against apartheid. Upon being released in 1990 he was credited as hero who ended apartheid. Mandela was subsequently awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1993. He later unified the country upon his victory in 1994 after the first election where both South Africa's white and black populations voted for a leader.

The outpouring was unprecedented with the first leader that made worldwide impact dying in the age of Twitter where world leaders, political figures, celebrities and the public were able to send condolences, grieve and or celebrate Mandela's life almost immediately after hearing the news. Mandela related tweets were in the millions just hours after he died on Thursday.

As of Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 four presidents, one present, three former will attend Mandela's funeral. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, and former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the funeral. Former President Jimmy Carter, 89 will also join Obama's contingent travelling to South Africa. While Former President George H. W. Bush, also 89, who is wheel chair bound, will be the only living President not attending the memorial.

The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement on Friday, Dec. 6 announcing the Obamas attending the funeral; "President Obama and the First Lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events. We'll have further updates on timing and logistics as they become available."

There has not been a speech or event that President Obama has been at and delivered remarks since Mandela's death that he has not mentioned Mandela's impact and legacy. Obama spoke of Mandela at the two holiday events he hosted and spoke at, at the second of two Hanukkah receptions on Thursday evening, Dec. 5 just after hours after the news of Mandela's death was made public and then again on Friday afternoon at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

President Obama delivered his formal statement on Mandela's passing early Thursday evening from the White House Briefing Room less than an hour after the official announcement and statement from Mandela's family was released about his death. Obama memorialized the South African President as "a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice."

The President giving his first thoughts was visibly upset and emotional. Obama began his statement, saying; "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."

President Obama spoke of Mandela's accomplishments, which have been an inspiration to him, and he sent his condolences to Mandela's family. President Obama has always maintained throughout his career how much of a personal and political influence Mandela had on him; his first real political involvement was attending anti-apartheid rallies in 1979 and 1980. Speaking about that influence Obama said; "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."

Concluding, Obama expressed; "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."

Also on Friday, Dec. 6, Former President George W. Bush's office released a statement on his plans to attend the funeral; "President and Mrs. George W. Bush have gratefully accepted the President and Mrs. Obama's invitation to accompany them to South Africa on Air Force One and attend President Nelson Mandela's memorial services next week."

All the living former Presidents issued official statements after news of Mandela's death was made public on Thursday. Former president George W. Bush stated; "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." Former president Bill Clinton who was personally friends with Mandela stated; "The world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings ... History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation."

Former President George H. W. Bush issued a statement from him and former First Lady Barbara Bush that read they; "mourn the passing of one of the greatest believers in freedom we have had the privilege to know…. He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country." While Former President Jimmy Carter commended Mandela's "passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies."

The list of American political leaders, elected officials past and present that issued eulogizing statements was long. All the Sunday morning news interviews are scheduled to feature tributes to Mandela. Among the other world leaders and politicians lauding Mandela's life included Canadian, British and Israeli leaders issued statements memorializing his life and accomplishment.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement that read in part; "Nelson Mandela's enduring legacy for his country, and the world, is the example he set through his own 'long walk to freedom.' With grace and humility, he modeled how peoples can transform their own times and in doing so, their own lives." Harper and three other former Canadian Prime Ministers will leave Canada on Sunday to partake in the memorial services for Mandela; Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell and Brian Mulroney will join Harper on this trip.

British Prime Minister David Cameron issued statements both officially and an immediate response on Twitter saying; "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time." Continuing, Cameron stated; "Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death - a true global hero. Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace. Meeting him was one of the great honours of my life."

Israeli leaders Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres both issued statements commending Mandela's legacy. Netanyahu called Mandela "the father of his nation, a man of vision, a freedom fighter who opposed violence." Continuing, Netanyahu's statement released on his Facebook page read; "He will be remembered as the father of the new South Africa and as a highly important moral leader." While President Shimon Peres' statement read; "The world has lost a venerable leader who changed the path of history…. "Mandela's legacy to his people and to the world will remain etched in the pages of history and in the hearts of all of those whose lives he touched, and who will remember him forever."

Former South African President Nelson Mandela's state funeral on Sunday, Dec. 15, will cap a 10-day mourning period in South Africa. The schedule will include an official day of prayer on Sunday, Dec. 8, followed by an "official memorial service" held on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at FNB Stadium. Then for three days from Wednesday, Dec. 11 to Friday, Dec. 14, Mandela's body will lie in state in Pretoria, and then there will be the state funeral and burial on Sunday, Dec. 15 in Mandela's "ancestral village of Qunu."

It is a time of mourning, but many in South Africa and worldwide have also been celebrating his life, accomplishment and legacy. South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the country on Friday, Dec. 6 announcing the schedule for the national mourning period, and expressed; "We will spend the week mourning his passing. ...We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived."


Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.



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