From European royal palaces to impoverished African townships, anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela was remembered Friday for his tireless fight against injustice and racism and celebrated for the better world he left behind.
Former South African President Frederik W. de Klerk, with whom Mandela negotiated an end to the brutal racist regime in his homeland, recalled the man who succeeded him as head of state as “a force for reconciliation and social justice” to the end.
“It was an honor for me to have been able to work with Mr. Mandela in the process that led to the adoption of the interim constitution and our first democratic elections in April 1994,” de Klerk said in a statement of condolence.
“Although we were political opponents, and although our relationship was often stormy, we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process.”
Despite Mandela’s death Thursday, the last white leader of South Africa declared himself confident that Mandela’s legacy “will continue to inspire all South Africans to achieve his vision of non-racialism, justice, human dignity and equality for all.”
In Soweto township, where Mandela lived during his years as an African National Congress militant, tearful residents gathered outside his former home, many sporting the ANC black, green and gold colors, to vent their sorrow and gratitude to the man who liberated them from the institutionalized racism of apartheid.
“If we can just strive to be half the person he was, with his humble forgiving soul, then I think this country would be a lot better,” said mourner Annelice Govender.
Buckingham Palace issued a statement Friday saying that Queen Elizabeth II was “deeply saddened” to learn of Mandela’s death.
“He worked tirelessly for the good of his country, and his legacy is the peaceful South Africa we see today,” the British royal household said.
“Her Majesty remembers with great warmth her meetings with Mr. Mandela and sends her sincere condolences to his family and the people of South Africa at this very sad time.”
Elizabeth’s grandson Prince William learned of Mandela’s passing after attending a film screening in London.
“We were just reminded what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was,” William, his wife, Catherine, by his side, told the BBC after leaving the cinema.
Another British subject, former England national soccer team captain David Beckham, recalled Mandela as “a true gentleman and a courageous human being.”
“It was truly an honor to have known a man who had genuine love for so many people. Rest in peace,” said Beckham, who met Mandela in 2003 during a friendly match between England and South Africa.
Olympic champion runner Usain Bolt hailed Mandela as “one of the greatest human beings ever” and the “world’s greatest fighter.”
Tributes to Mandela poured in from all corners of the world.
From Tehran, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani sent condolences to South Africa and praised Mandela as someone who “believed undoubtedly in freedom and equality for all human beings, not only in South Africa but across the world.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif added in condolences posted on his Facebook page that Mandela was “a role model for freedom-seeking revolutionaries” who succeeded not only in defeating apartheid but also in resisting the temptations of “power, anger, hatred, violence and revenge.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed Mandela as a world-renowned statesman who peacefully transformed his country.
“With arduous and extraordinary efforts, he led the people of South Africa to success in the struggle against apartheid, making a historic contribution to the birth and development of a new South Africa,” Xi said in a statement that seemed carefully worded to avoid any encouragement of people power in communist-ruled China.
In Europe, the honors were more lauding of Mandela’s personal sacrifice in challenging the apartheid regime, for which he spent 27 years in prison.
“Mandela traversed great hardships and trials, but remained true to the noble ideals of humanism and justice right to the end,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Mandela a “luminous example” that will continue to inspire justice advocates for years to come.
“Even many years in prison could not break Nelson Mandela or make him bitter — his message of reconciliation ultimately led to a new, better South Africa,” Merkel said.
A giant portrait of Mandela covered the facade of the Quai d’Orsay building housing the French Foreign Ministry on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colors of the South African flag. Flowers were laid in front of the South African Embassy in the French capital, as was a newspaper emblazoned with a headline bidding farewell to the beloved leader: “Adieu Mandela.”