London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Minutes after South African President Jacob Zuma announced the death of South Africa’s “greatest son,” political, economic and cultural figures around the world began to pay tribute to the former South African president, anti-apartheid activist and Nobel peace prize laureate, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian Foreign Minister and current UN–Arab League envoy to Syria, said: “Men and women everywhere feel they have lost someone very close to them, a man they loved deeply and respected and admired profoundly.”
Brahimi recalled his own experience meeting Mandela, saying: “It was such a privilege to have known him, to have listened to him a number of times, to have participated, however modestly, in his gigantic achievement: the end of apartheid and the restoration of lasting peace and reconciliation in South Africa.”
The media advisor to interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour, Ahmed El-Muslimani, said that Mandela was an “African symbol” who will be remembered by Egypt and the African continent with pride and honor. He added that Nelson Mandela, along with other African leaders such as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Ghanian leader Kwame Nkrumah, led the people of the continent towards independence.
Moroccan King Mohamed VI sent his condolences to Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, and to all his relatives and friends. He wrote that “the late Mandela was a man of peace and convictions who tirelessly endeavored for the triumph of the values of peace, dignity and democracy.”
Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, stated that “the world has lost a true fighter and a formidable leader for peace, freedom and equality. He was a voice of justice, human dignity and goodwill for all of humanity.” Sheikh Khalifa stressed the strong friendship between the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the iconic South African figure.
Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader, reiterated that “Mr Mandela was a symbol of the liberation from colonialism and occupation.”
Abbas stressed that “the Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement saying that Mandela, whose life had been a “rough and rugged road full of hardship,” firmly believed in the “freedom and equality of all humans, not only in his country, South Africa, but also across the world.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also issued a statement, saying that “throughout his lifelong struggle, he [Nelson Mandela] respected all people and he has left us many lessons to learn.”
Beyond the Middle East, statements about the death of the man affectionately known as “Madiba” have been equally poignant.
US President Barack Obama said he mourned the death of “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.”
Speaking of Mandela’s life, Obama declared: “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.”
Commemorating the man who was described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said “Mr Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death—a true global hero.”
French President François Hollande said that Mandela will keep on inspiring “fighters for freedom and give confidence to peoples in the defense of just causes and universal rights.”
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel added that his “political legacy of non-violence and the condemnation of all forms of racism” would continue to inspire people for generations.
Other international religious, cultural and sports figures mourned the death of Nelson Mandela.
Catholic Pope Francis praised Mandela’s “steadfast commitment in promoting the human dignity of all the nation’s citizens and in forging a new South Africa.”
Burmese opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said that “Mr. Mandela made us all understand that nobody should be penalized for the color of his skin or the circumstances into which he was born . . . He also made us understand that we can change the world.”
Idris Elba, who portrayed the South African leader in the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom said: “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.”
“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…He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale”, said American Boxing legend, Muhammad Ali.
International Cricket Council (ICC) president Alan Isaac said: “As South Africa’s first black President, Mr Mandela recognized and utilized sport as a mechanism to unite the divided people of South Africa and create a shared national identity and pride. As a statesman, he was remarkable, and as a man, he was inspirational.”
Mandela was a cricket enthusiast who was responsible for returning world cricket matches to South Africa following the end of apartheid.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is flying the Olympic flag at half-staff Friday in honor of the late president. In a statement to the Associated Press, IOC President Thomas Bach described him as “a remarkable man who understood that sport could build bridges, break down walls, and reveal our common humanity.”