JOHANNESBURG, December 6, 2013 (AFP) – The world on Friday mourned South Africa’s beloved Nelson Mandela, whose universal appeal was evident once again in a global outpouring of grief for the anti-apartheid hero hailed as an “incredible gift” to humanity.
Mandela’s Rainbow Nation awoke to a future without its 95-year-old founding father after the country’s first black president died late on Thursday at his Johannesburg home, surrounded by friends and family.
President Jacob Zuma said an official mourning ceremony would be held on December 10 in Soweto followed by a burial in Mandela’s Eastern Cape hometown of Qunu on December 15.
His body will lie in state in the capital Pretoria from December 11-13.
As his compatriots paid lively tributes to the revered former statesman with flowers, songs and dance, admirers from all walks of life around the world joined in an outpouring of emotion, pondering Mandela’s legacy and remembering key moments in the icon’s life.
South Africa’s archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu — and fellow Nobel prize winner — praised Mandela as an “incredible gift that God gave us”.
In an address where he fought to hold back the tears, Tutu said his old friend was “a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison”.
Mandela spent 27 years in an apartheid prison before becoming president and unifying his country with a message of reconciliation after the end of white minority rule. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa’s last white president F.W. de Klerk in 1993.
Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all paid heartfelt tribute to Mandela, describing him as one of the towering figures of the 20th century who inspired young and old with his fight for equality.
US leader Barack Obama, his country’s own first black president led a global roll call of commemorations.
“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” he said. “He achieved more than could be expected of any man.”
Flags flew at half-mast in numerous countries, including the United States, France and Britain and at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower lit up in green, red, yellow and blue to symbolise the South African flag while India declared five days of mourning for a man the premier labelled “a true Gandhian”.
Mandela had waged a long battle against a recurring lung infection and had been receiving treatment at home since September following a lengthy hospital stay.
Outside his house in the upmarket Houghton suburb and at his former residence in the once blacks-only township of Soweto, scores of well-wishers danced and sang old songs of struggle to celebrate the man they lovingly call Madiba.
Some in Johannesburg rushed from their homes in their pyjamas after hearing of his passing, while many brought along children too young to have known the brutal and racist South Africa that Mandela fought to overcome.
“I did not come here to mourn. We are celebrating the life of a great man. A great unifier,” said local resident Bobby Damon.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take inspiration from Mandela’s struggle in the Middle East peace talks.
“The naysayers are wrong to call peace in this region an impossible goal,” he told reporters in Israel, before quoting Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Zuma said Mandela would be given a full state funeral expected to be attended by a slew of foreign leaders as well as celebrity and sports figures.
“We should all work together to organise the most befitting funeral for this outstanding son of our country and the father of our young nation,” he said.
Mandela’s body was taken to a military hospital in Pretoria in preparation for lying in state.
While the ailing former statesman’s death had long been expected after a spate of hospitalisations, the announcement came as a shock nonetheless.
Mandela’s two youngest daughters were in London watching the premiere of his biopic “Long Walk to Freedom” — along with Britain’s Prince William — when they learned of his death.
British actor Idris Elba, who portrayed Mandela in the film, said: “We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this Earth.”
Mandela’s eldest grandson expressed gratitude for the international outpouring of support.
“The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us,” said Mandla Mandela.
‘Terrorist’ turned icon
Once considered a terrorist by the United States and Britain for his support of violence against the apartheid regime, at the time of his death he was an almost unimpeachable moral icon.
Mandela’s extraordinary life story, quirky sense of humour and lack of bitterness towards his former oppressors ensured global appeal for the charismatic leader.
He spent 27 years behind bars before being freed in 1990 to lead the African National Congress (ANC) in negotiations with the white minority rulers, which culminated in the first multi-racial elections in 1994.
A victorious Mandela served a single term as president before taking up a new role as a roving elder statesman and leading AIDS campaigner. He retired from public life in 2004.
Born in 1918, Mandela started a career as a lawyer in Johannesburg in parallel with his political activism.
He became commander of the armed wing of the then-banned ANC and underwent military training in Algeria and Ethiopia in the early 1960s.
He was arrested and sentenced to life in jail for sabotage in 1964. At his trial, he delivered the speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement.
“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society,” he said from the dock. “It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
He served most of his sentence on Robben Island, where he was held in spartan conditions. When he was finally released on February 11, 1990, he walked out of prison with his fist raised alongside his then-wife Winnie.
Ex-prisoner 46664 then took on the task of persuading de Klerk to call time on the era of racist white minority rule.
‘We can change the world’
After the ANC won the country’s first multi-racial elections, Mandela declared his intention to establish “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”.
Critics said his five-year presidency was marred by corruption and rising levels of crime. But his successors have never enjoyed the same levels of respect or affection.
Mandela divorced his second wife Winnie in 1996. He found new love in retirement with Graca Machel, the widow of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel, whom he married on his 80th birthday.
Myanmar’s own democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of her “extreme grief” at the death of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, who “made us understand that we can change the world”.
The Dalai Lama said he would miss his “dear friend”, whom he hailed as “a man of courage, principle and unquestionable integrity”.
Mandela is survived by three daughters, 18 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. He had four step-children through his marriage to Machel.
His death has left his family divided over his wealth. Some of his children and grandchildren are locked in a legal feud with his close friends over alleged irregularities in his two companies.