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Nelson Mandela dead at 95: ‘This is the moment of our deepest sorrow’

Ken Watts | 12/6/2013, 6:02 a.m.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who fought apartheid and was imprisoned for 27 years, died on Dec. 5 at age 95. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Nelson Mandela, who made the long journey from an apartheid prison to the presidency of South Africa, died Dec. 5. He was 95.

Mandela, who had been ailing from a lung infection, died at home surrounded by his family.

South African President Jacob Zuma said his nation lost its greatest son and his people, a father.

“This is the moment of our deepest sorrow,” Zuma said. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves, and in him we saw so much of ourselves.”

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years on notorious Robben Island for fighting apartheid in his country, but he harbored no ill will toward his captors. He was elected president of South Africa in 1994 and served for five years. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Mourners from President Barack Obama to former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and 4th District U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson remembered Mandela as a humble leader who inspired the world.

Young, who knew Mandela well, called him a “great lovable human being.”

“He had a feeling that no problem couldn’t be solved and that violence was not the answer,” Young said. “He overcame all the hatred and the fear simply by being loving and forgiving, even to the people who persecuted him.”

Lowery, who chaired the committee that welcomed Mandela to Atlanta in 1990, called him “a great statesman of our time” and a man who represented the essence of African manhood.

“I will never forget the day he came out of prison with his head held high,” Lowery said.

Obama said that we 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 said. “He belongs to the ages.”

The president said that 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,” he said.

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said Mandela’s place in history is secured by the dignity, grace and strength of character he displayed in the face of tyranny.

“We are blessed to have had Nelson Mandela among us for the many years of life he was granted,” he said.

Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist in Lithonia said that Mandela changed the course of history by overcoming the struggles of hatred and apartheid.

“He inspired us, challenged us, and showed us how to fight for equality and freedom, for all mankind, without violence,” Long said.

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918. He was a boxer-turned-lawyer and became an early opponent of apartheid, the system of segregation that oppressed black Africans. He was arrested in 1962, convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela was freed in 1990 after an international “Free Mandela” campaign. On his release from prison, he worked with President F.W. de Klerk for a peaceful dismantling of apartheid and was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, serving until 1999.

The racial bloodbath that some predicted would come with the end of apartheid never materialized.

Mandela made two trips to Atlanta, in 1990 and 1993. His second visit, in July 1993, included public appearances at the King Center, at Cascade United Methodist Church in southwest Atlanta, and at Clark Atlanta University, where he received an honorary degree.

Congressman Johnson said peaceful change will be Mandela’s legacy.

“What impressed me most about Nelson Mandela was his humble spirit of forgiveness and love toward those who persecuted him,” he said. “Ultimately, he lived a life of triumph over evil and adversity, leaving the world a better place for his journey amongst us.”

Zuma said Mandela will get a state funeral. He ordered his country’s flags flown at half-staff until Mandela’s funeral.