JOHANNESBURG: The world Friday mourned South Africa’s beloved Nelson Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid hero and endearing former statesman who was hailed universally as an “incredible gift” to humanity.
Mandela’s “rainbow nation” awoke to a future without its founding father and its first black president, after he died late Thursday aged 95 at his Johannesburg home surrounded by friends and family.
South African President Jacob Zuma announced a 10-day mourning period that will include a huge Dec. 10 memorial service attended by various heads of state. U.S. President Barack Obama’s office confirmed he would be among them.
Three days of Mandela’s body lying in state in Pretoria will follow, and then on Dec. 15 a state funeral will take place to bury his remains in his birth town of Qunu.
As his compatriots paid lively tributes to the revered former statesman with flowers, songs and dance, admirers from all walks of life around the world joined in an outpouring of emotion, lauding Mandela’s legacy and remembering key moments in his life.
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel Prize winner, praised Mandela as an “incredible gift that God gave us.”
In an address where he fought to hold back the tears, Tutu said his old friend was “a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison.”
Mandela spent 27 years in an apartheid prison before becoming president and unifying his country with a message of reconciliation after the end of white minority rule.
Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all paid tribute to Mandela, describing him as one of the towering figures of the 20th century who inspired young and old with his fight for equality.
Flags flew at half-mast in numerous countries, including the United States, France and Britain.
Paris’ Eiffel Tower lit up in green, red, yellow and blue to symbolize the South African flag, while India declared five days of mourning for a man the country’s prime minister labeled “a true Gandhian.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “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.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres called him “above all a builder of bridges of peace and dialogue who paid a heavy personal price for his struggle.”
Outside his house in the upmarket Houghton suburb and at his former residence in the once blacks-only township of Soweto, scores of well-wishers danced and sang old songs of struggle to celebrate the man they lovingly call Madiba.
South Africans gathered Friday in Cape Town at the site where Mandela gave his first speech as a free man after walking out of prison in 1990.
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the best way to remember Mandela was to free the African continent of poverty, unrest and disease.
“We will do it in your name,” she said.