Nelson Mandela-public-domainFormer South African President Nelson Mandela was hailed on Thursday as a champion of reconciliation who ‘achieved more than could be expected of any man,’ as people the world over mourned his death and celebrated his triumphant fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Mandela endured life in prison for 27 years until his release in 1990 following an international campaign that lobbied for his release. Amid escalating civil strife, he published his autobiography and opened negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid.

He was elected president in the historic multiracial elections in 1994. As South Africa’s first black president Mandela formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to defuse racial tension and established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu.

”Let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived,” said President Obama, who pointed out that his first involvement in politics was during college when he protested against apartheid. In the first White House statement Thursday, following Mandela’s death at age 95, he described his hero as “a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

Mandela studied law as a young man, but said in 1994, “In a way I had never quite comprehended before, I realized the role I could play in court and the possibilities before me as a defendant. I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, Mandela young manthe representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonored those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even in the fortress of the enemy.”

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who was in office when Mandela was released from prison in 1990, said: ‘As president, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment—setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all.’

(READ the Reuters story in the Chicago Tribune)

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