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Nelson Mandela life story: tributes from Bill Clinton, Cyril Ramaphosa and Kofi Annan

'He taught us so much'

BILL CLINTON, President of the United States, 1993-2001

Nelson Mandela taught us so much about so many things. Perhaps the greatest lesson, especially for young people, is that, while bad things do happen to good people, we still have the freedom and responsibility to decide how to respond to injustice, cruelty and violence and how they will affect our spirits, hearts and minds.

In his 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela endured physical and emotional abuse, isolation and degradation. His trials purified his spirit and clarified his vision, giving him the strength to be a free man even behind bars, and to remain free of anger and hatred when he was at last released.

Mandela's enduring legacy is that, under a crushing burden of oppression he saw through differences, discrimination and destruction to embrace our common humanity.

Thanks to his life and work, the rest of us are closer to embracing it too.

His message echoed across the globe

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, Secretary general of the ANC, 1991-1997

The Mandela that we came to know, admire and love - even before we had seen him - was a person whose entire being was dedicated to the plight of humanity. This dedication was most directly evident in his struggle for the liberation of South Africa's black population: the African people, Coloureds and Indians.

He spoke about the oppressed; he spoke for the oppressed, the poor, and the downtrodden of South Africa. But he was never parochial. As discrimination, oppression and exploitation defy national boundaries, so too did Mandela's message echo across the globe. If there was a suitable tribute for Nelson Mandela, it is to hear, loudly and unhindered, the myriad voices of the people that his work has helped to empower.

He continues to inspire millions

KOFI ANNAN, Secretary general of the United Nations, 1997-2007

People often ask me what difference one person can make in the face of injustice, conflict, human rights violations, mass poverty and disease.

I answer by citing the courage, tenacity, dignity and magnanimity of Nelson Mandela. I cite his inspired leadership, upon his release, in the peaceful transition to a multiracial, multiparty democracy founded on a constitution protecting fundamental human rights. I cite his efforts, as President of South Africa, to create the political, economic and social conditions needed to bring Africa the peace and prosperity it needs and deserves.

Above all, I cite his ready willingness to embrace and reconcile with those who persecuted him the most, and the grace with which he stuck to his promise to serve only one Presidential term of office.

His contribution did not end there... He continues to inspire millions of people and several generations throughout the globe.

The only adequate way in which we can truly express our gratitude for his lifetime's contribution is for every one of us to seek to follow his example.


In The Independent on Saturday:


A special supplement celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela