Nelson Mandela, 'conscience of the world', is dead



Nelson Mandela, the man who demolished the much despised apartheid policy of racial segregation and went on to become South Africa's first black president, died Thursday at the age of 95.

South Africa grieved for its "Madiba", and world leaders paid rich tributes with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying he represented the "conscience of the world".

"He is now resting. He is now at peace," President Jacob Zuma said in a late night TV announcement of his death. "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."

Mandela, who led a peaceful struggle against racial oppression of the country's black majority by the white minority, died at his home in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg, at 8.50 p.m.

He was bedridden and had even stopped taking food in recent days, leaving his family virtually on death watch. Mandela was released from hospital in early September following an 85-day stay for a recurring lung infection, the result of his longtime imprisonment during the apartheid period.

A Nobel laureate and a Bharat Ratna, India's highest award, he served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Emotional crowds paid tribute to Mandela, dancing and singing in traditional dirge in front of his former home in Soweto throughout the night.

Flags flew at half-mast all over South Africa.

He strove hard for a better future for everyone in South Africa and became famous for his fight against poor governance and racial prejudice. As a leader, he was respected for his courage and wisdom in bringing people together to live in peace.

Mandela led a life that was an inspiration to the world. He was a believer in principles of Mahatma Gandhi, who served in South Africa and later went on to lead India to freedom.

"The enemies that (Mahatma) Gandhi fought ignorance, disease, unemployment, poverty and violence are today common place in a country that had the potential to lead and uplift Africa. Today we are faced with the formidable task of reconstructing our country anew.

"Now more than ever is the time when we have to pay heed to the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi," said Mandela in Pietermaritzburg in June 1993.

Tributes poured in from all over the world.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described him as a "giant among men" and called him "a true Gandhian".

"...Not only did he represent the conscience of the world, he also remained a beacon of hope for those struggling against oppression and injustice long after he had led his own people to victory over such ills."

US President Barack Obama remembered Mandela as "a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice".

"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," said Obama.

"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," said the son of a Kenyan father and an American white mother.

Madiba, the clan name by which Mandela was lovingly called by South Africans, was born Rolihlala Dalibhunga Mandela July 18, 1918, in the village of Mvezo on the banks of river Mbashe in Transkei, South Africa, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the acting king of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

Mandela was elected the first black president in the first open election in South Africa April 29, 1994, and assumed office May 10 that year.

In 1999 he stepped down from the office after serving one term.

He married his present wife, Graca Mandela, in 1998, after his first two marriages to Evelyn and Winnie had ended in divorce in 1958 and 1996 respectively.

The Washington Post compared Mandela, who "brought the world toward a racial reconciliation" to Mahatma Gandhi and American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., both "men of peace, preaching nonviolent resistance to oppression and exploitation."

"Gandhi, King, Mandela - these, it could be argued, are the figures who will live longest in the public consciousness as we look back on the postwar world," it said. - IANS