At the memorial service in Soweto, South Africa, over one hundred world leaders spoke in commemoration of former South African President Nelson Mandela on December 10.
Mandela was far more than a president; he was a Nobel Laureate, a prisoner of the country’s oppressors, but most importantly a freedom fighter and human rights activist who led his country out of apartheid.
Since his death on December 5, 2013, the world has united in honoring his life. Current South African president Jacob Zuma, who publicly announced the news of his death, said, “Our nation has lost its greatest son…Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.”
Since the world heard the news, crowds of South Africans have gathered outside the home where Mandela died, people have expressed their grief on social networks, and world leaders have told of their enduring respect for him.
UN secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke at his memorial on Tuesday, expressing that “South Africa has lost a hero, we have lost a father, the world has lost a beloved friend and mentor. Nelson Mandela showed us the way with a heart larger than this stadium.”
He also labeled Mandela as “one of the greatest leaders of our time.” Alongside world leaders such as President Barack Obama, Cuba’s Raul Castro and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, extended members of Nelson Mandela’s family gathered to mourn their loss and celebrate his life.
Obama opened his speech with a dedication to the South African people: “To the people of South Africa—people of every race and walk of life—the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.”
He went on to speak of Mandela’s activism, even when confined in prison: “He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet…And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.”
A transcript of Obama’s full speech can be read here.
Mandela proved time and again that his patriotism and devotion to the South African people and his mission to rid the country and the world at large of inequality superceded his own sense of self.
The National Minority Aids Council (NMAC), an organization focused on developing leaderships in communities of color in order to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, also honored his legacy. Director of Legislative and Public Affairs Kali Lindsey said, “As a global advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS, as well as an indefatigable opponent to poverty and injustice, NMAC has long admired Mandela and his work.”
He added, “His light inspired millions to believe that change is possible. And while the world, as well as NMAC mourns his passing, his legacy will continue to illuminate our path toward greater social justice and an end to this epidemic.”