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     Dec 6, '13

Nelson Mandela - 1918-2013
By Chris Stewart

The death of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95, after a prolonged period of deteriorating health, was long anticipated, yet it has left much of the world far beyond his beloved South Africa with a deep sense of loss.

The eulogies for the former revolutionary and president that are leading newspaper front pages from China to India, to South America and all parts in between tell their own story, with the

great and the good who survive him - including those such as President Barack Obama who would follow in his footsteps of reconciliation - singing their official praises.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the former South African president "was an example of working for harmony" and "represented the conscience of the world". UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Mandela was a "giant for justice".

Moral integrity and a pressing desire for reconciliation stand out as Mandela's heritage, and his success at the latter on both personal and wider political fronts was of unquestionably historic proportions.

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that at the 1994 presidential inauguration of Mandela, who had been held in prison for some 28 years, "his jailers sat in the front row at his inauguration. I will never forget him, nor will the world."

Other US politicians were less forgiving of Mandela's role in helping to end South Africa's apartheid era - he wasn't removed from the US terror watch list until July 1, 2008, when he was almost 90 years old.

For all his dignity and the public's adoration in his later years, Mandela did not survive by having a soft tongue, as he made clear when he spoke out against the Iraq war in 2003: "What I am condemning is that one power, with a president [George W Bush] who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust."

Mandela played little part in public politics over the past decade, yet the hard fact of his passing leaves South Africans concerned for their country's future. One South African said: "Now everybody is going to do what he wants. If he's alive, there's that thing they are going to say that it's wrong."

Journalist Fred Bridgland, who was at the gates of Victor Verster prison to cover the release of Mandela in February 1990 (for video of that eventful day, see here) considers his death to be "as momentous an event in the modern history of South Africa as the day he came to power as his country's first black post-apartheid state president on 10 May, 1994".

Bridgland warns: "Once the mourning is over - and it will be prolonged and intense - South Africa will be a less stable place."

The media coverage of Mandela's life and times, his strengths and weaknesses, is immense. Perhaps in a world short of time even to pay homage to such a man two sources may be picked out as of value today.

One is the Sowetan, a publication synonymous with the township that perhaps garnered more notoriety than any other for white South Africa's brutal determination to maintain power against the aspirations and anger of the country's young black population.

The second is David Beresford's comprehensive and balanced obituary for the Guardian, a newspaper that helped to shape a young generation's better understanding of the mess their forebears in the once imperial power helped to create and that Mandela did so much for so long and at such cost to unravel.

For all the eulogies that have accompanied Mandela's passing, it is ordinary people who will perhaps feel the greatest loss - and it was perhaps the ordinary in himself that former US president Bill Clinton was recognizing when he commented in 1998: "Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room, we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we'd like to be him on our best day."

For Nelson Mandela, despite his not always well-publicized limitations, represented to his very end that rarest of all species, a politician who could be viewed and heard without cynicism, with a belief that he had more than self-interest in his heart.

As Brazil's O Globo expressed it in its lead headline: "O Mundo Perde Nelson Mandela".

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