Nelson Mandela, a revolutionary freedom fighter who remained on the United States Terror Watch List until 2008, was much more than a global icon. He was a warrior for justice, a beacon of hope and the father of a radical tradition of fearlessness and truth in the face of stifling oppression and South African apartheid.
Once considered an enemy of the United States, Great Britain and much of the imperialist Western world, Mandela’s African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization trained together in Libya under slain President Muammar Ghaddafi. He counted Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat among his friends. And even though he publicly forgave his jailers, Mandela never stopped speaking out against White supremacy and economic slavery.
Nelson Mandela never worried about doing what was popular; he lived his life fighting for what was right.
His insurmountable bravery and unwavering commitment to humanity around the globe is unsurpassed. And when he died on December 5 at 95-years-old, after a long battle with lung disease, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that flags at the White House and other public and military facilities would be flown at half-staff through sunset on December 9 in his honor:
“We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with,” Obama said. “He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages … His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to.”
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life,” Obama continued, citing his own protests against apartheid as one of his first political actions. “I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example set by Nelson Mandela.”
Obama continued, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”
Read other reactions from dignitaries, celebrities, politicians and those who loved Nelson Mandela below:
South African President Jacob Zuma
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
“In the hands of Nelson Mandela, hope and history rhymed. This is a better world because Nelson Mandela was in it. He was a good man.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless … Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit.
“He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to empathize with others. He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.”
Former President Bill Clinton
I will never forget my friend Madiba. pic.twitter.com/UX21ZZG7cg
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) December 5, 2013
“History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life . … All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived. He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life’s real victories must be shared.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
“Nine months since the passing of our comandante [Hugo Chavez], another giant of the people of the world passed away today. Madiba you will live forever!”
Senate Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi
“With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost a leader who advanced the cause of equality and human rights, who overcame a history of oppression in South Africa to expand the reach of freedom worldwide. He led the campaign to defeat apartheid through non-violence, peace, and dialogue. He never allowed resentment to drive him away from the path of reconciliation. He emerged from prison to set free an entire nation; he shed the bonds of slave labor to reshape the fate of his people.
“Nelson Mandela once said that ‘courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ His life is the affirmation of this statement: a story of courage, a triumph over fear, a whole-hearted faith in the power, promise, and possibility of the human spirit. He inspired the world with his strength and perseverance, with his message of hope and his embrace of freedom. He left us a legacy of love and partnership.
“May the life of Nelson Mandela long stand as the ultimate tribute to the triumph of hope. May his story long remind us to always look forward with optimism to the future. May it be a comfort to his family, to his friends and loved ones, to the people of South Africa that so many mourn the loss of this extraordinary man and incredible leader at this sad time.”
French President Francois Hollande
“Mr. Mandela’s message will continue to inspire fighters for freedom, and to give confidence to peoples in the defence of just causes and universal rights.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
“His name will always be associated with the fight against the oppression of his people and with overcoming the apartheid regime. Not even years in prison could break Nelson Mandela or make him bitter – a new, better South Africa eventually emerged out of his message of reconciliation. … Nelson Mandela’s shining example and his political legacy of non-violence and the condemnation of all forms of racism will continue to inspire people around the world for many years to come.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
“The people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have lost a great leader. His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world’s leading democracies.”
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush
“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. He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country.”
Former President George W. Bush
“Laura and I join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela’s family and to the citizens of the nation he loved.”
Former South African President F.W. de Klerk
“He was a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did. This emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“Nelson Mandela was of the most honorable figures of our time. He was the father of his people, a man of vision, a freedom fighter who rejected violence. He set a personal example for his people in the long years he spent in prison. He was never arrogant. He worked to mend the tears in South African society and with his character managed to prevent outbursts of racial hatred. He will be remembered as the father of new South Africa and as an outstanding moral leader.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping
“Mr Mandela was a world-renowned statesman, who during the long years led the South African people through arduous struggles to the anti-apartheid victory, making a historic contribution to the establishment and development of the new South Africa. Mr Mandela, who visited China twice, was also one of the founders of China-South Africa relations, and an active champion of bilateral friendship and cooperation.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
“He fought for the abolition of apartheid with strong will. On nation building, he made a major achievement with focus on the reconciliation of the people. He was a great leader.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron
“A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time.”
House Majority Leader John Boehner
“Nelson Mandela was an unrelenting voice for democracy and his ‘long walk to freedom’ showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity. His perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations. Mandela led his countrymen through times of epic change with a quiet moral authority that directed his own path from prisoner to president. He passes this world as a champion of peace and racial harmony. I send condolences to the Mandela family and to the people of South Africa.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell
“Elaine and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela, a man whose skillful guidance of South Africa following the end of the Apartheid regime made him one of the great statesmen of our time and a global symbol of reconciliation. ‘Madiba’s’ patience through imprisonment and insistence on unity over vengeance in the delicate period in which he served stand as a permanent reminder to the world of the value of perseverance and the positive influence one good man or woman can have over the course of human affairs. The world mourns this great leader. May his passing lead to a deeper commitment to reconciliation around the world.”
Sen. Cory Booker
Humanity has lost one of our greatest. RIP Nelson Mandela. Thank you for teaching us a deeper meaning of love, leadership & sacrifice.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) December 5, 2013
“What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
“He made us realize, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colors. What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge.”
“Nelson Mandela was an angel walking on this earth. You were one the greatest teachers this world has ever known. We love you and we miss you.”
“Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve—a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind. As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we’ve come, but on how far we have to go.”
President Nelson Mandela Born July 18th,1918-December 5th In The Year Of Our Lawd 2013.
Rev. Al Sharpton
“I am honored to have encountered Nelson Mandela on several occasions. He changed human history and taught activists around the world that in order to legitimately further what is noble, you must actually be a noble person. Nelson Mandela personified someone that non-violently changed the course of world history with the democratization of South Africa. Everything humanly possible that could be done to someone other than killing them was done to him, yet he maintained his dignity and his determination. It is almost unthinkable what he endured and yet forgave. He taught us that you have to keep your eye on the prize, and that nothing you suffer is as important as the goals that you are fighting for. He showed us that you can change the course of human history without lowering yourself to human depravity.”
“It was as if he was born to teach the age a lesson in humility, in humor and above all else in patience. In the end, Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence, but because he learnt that love would do a better job. Mandela played with the highest stakes. He put his family, his country, his time, his life on the line, and he won most of these contests. Stubborn till the end for all the right reasons, it felt like he very nearly outstared his maker. Today, finally, he blinked. And some of us cry, knowing our eyes were opened to so much because of him.”
In the modern age, Nelson Mandela will be remembered as an unsurpassed healer of human hearts.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) December 5, 2013
Rep. Keith Ellison
Just learned that Nelson Mandela, 95, has gone to his reward. Awesome, wonderful man.
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) December 5, 2013
Michaela Angela Davis
— MichaelaAngela Davis (@MichaelaAngelaD) December 5, 2013
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Remembering Nelson Mandela today, in his passing, a true pioneer and inspiration in my life. I am honored to have known him during his 95 years.
My condolences to the family and loved ones of Nelson Mandela and to the people of the Republic of South Africa and all of Africa. I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela on several occasions. It is true that he was a transformational leader; I also visited Robben Island and saw the prison where he lived and worked and the cell in which he was incarcerated. Mandela’s is a very moving journey, one that carried the dreams and aspirations of an entire nation and world of people ready for change and alleviation of suffering. And to all of us who work for the day that oppression is a phenomenon unknown to humankind.
Dr. Imani Perry
“Nelson Mandela was labeled a terrorist by the United States government. Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner. Nelson Mandela was at the helm of a revolutionary organization. It is so easy to wax poetic about his heroism after the tide of history has turned. But to stand in the tradition of Mandela is to embrace justice when and where power opposes it. I am grateful that the anti-apartheid and divestment movement was part of my coming of age because it allowed me to cultivate through my own experience a critical gaze and to find footing in a radical tradition. We need those spaces to flourish for our young people today, and for those who will come behind them. I feel like tonight we should rededicate ourselves to courage and truth-telling rather that mere sentimentalism. For Madiba.”
Eternal Salute to Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest revolutionaries to grace this earth http://t.co/XJx4Q2FtWs
— Jasiri X (@jasiri_x) December 5, 2013
#Madiba, the world’s great warrior saint is rising to heaven. Tonight, talk to a child about him so that his light will shine on in them too
— Ben Jealous (@BenJealous) December 5, 2013
Every time Melinda and I met Nelson Mandela, we left more inspired than ever. His grace and courage changed the world. This is a sad day.
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) December 5, 2013
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” Rest in Power Mr. #NelsonMandela
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) December 5, 2013
IN MEMORY OF NELSON MANDELA • 1918-2013 • HE CHANGED OUR WORLD pic.twitter.com/TV0laPcxso
— Apollo Theater (@ApolloTheater) December 5, 2013
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
“The example of this great leader will guide all those who fight for social justice and peace in the world.”
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt
“Nelson Mandela was man who changed the world. He was as firm in his belief in the equal value of every human being as he was strong in his will and ability to bring about reconciliation. He chose reconciliation where others would have chosen vengeance. He created a new South Africa and gave people around the world a role model and an ideal.”
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan
“Although it has come at the advanced age of 95, Madiba’s death will create a huge vacuum that will be difficult to fill in our continent. He will be sorely missed by all who cherish love, peace and freedom the world over … ”
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto
“Humanity has lost a tireless champion of peace, liberty and equality. Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela.”
Attorney Hal Dockins
We can debate lingering South African inequities but not the debt of gratitude the world owes for the sacrifices made by the Mandela family.
— Hal Dockins (@HalDockins) December 6, 2013
As a young man, I had the honor of meeting the great freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. Shook his hand & didn’t wash my hand for a week
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) December 5, 2013
Radio One Pays Tribute To Nelson Mandela