President Jacob Zuma of South Africa announced this evening that the founding President of the democratic nation of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, had died today at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, at the age of 95. President Zuma’s address included, in part, the following:
"Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.
Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude. They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free."
Often referred to by his clan name, Madiba, or as “Tata,” meaning “Father,” as he is considered to be the father of the nation, President Mandela was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize --shared with former South African President F.W. de Klerk -- as well as the United States of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Soviet Order of Lenin, the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award for “public service of the highest order;” and in 1992 President Mandela was awarded the Atatürk Peace Award by the government of Turkey; and the Nishan-e-Pakistan, for "distinguished services to the country of Pakistan, and the international community." There have been many other tributes and awards, numbering in the hundreds.
This evening, President Obama observed that at the conclusion of his trial in 1964, in which he was found guilty of inciting workers’ strikes and violating travel restrictions, Nelson Mandela spoke from the dock:
“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.”
The President noted that “we have now 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,” and that he had once said:
“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
The President, this evening, added the following:
“Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa -- and moved all of us. His 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."
President Obama acknowledged that this was indeed a very personal sense of loss for himself, since one of the first actions he ever took was to protest against apartheid, and that he had studied what he had written, and on the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison after all those years, he was struck by what a single human being can do “when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.”
”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.”