Schoolchildren hold candles near a giant portrait of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Chennai, India, Dec. 6, 2013.
Arun Sankar K/AP

Mandela unites the world once more


In life, Nelson Mandela’s transformation from child “troublemaker,” to student activist, to political prisoner, to South Africa’s first black president mirrored the transformation of his country from division in apartheid to unity in democracy. And in passing, Madiba, as he was known to his countrymen, bound together billions once more with the common threads of equality, peace, and hope–this time, to say goodbye.

Outside Mandela’s home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, hundreds gathered to pay tribute to the anti-apartheid hero, who on Thursday passed away at the age of 95, after a long battle with lung problems.

President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela would be buried on Dec. 15 on the Eastern Cape, following a memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Dec. 10. Mandela’s body will lie in state from Dec. 11-13 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday that President Obama and the first lady will travel to South Africa next week to participate in the memorial events. Mandela called Obama when he won the presidency in 2008, and the two historic leaders had spoken by phone several times since, Carney said. Michelle Obama and their daughters traveled to South Africa in 2011 and met with Mandela at his home. Aides to the first lady said a cellphone photo of Mandela’s meeting with then-Sen. Obama in 2006 stood framed in the South African leader’s office.

Across Mandela’s country, flags flew at half mast, while on the Johannesburg stock exchange, trade ground to halt for a five minute recognition.

World mourns death of Nelson Mandela
Tributes continued to pour in on Friday.

At Cape Town’s St. George’s Cathedral on Friday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu led an emotional mass where he told those gathered to give Mandela “the gift of a South Africa united, one.” Later in the day, Cape Town’s Grand Parade, the city’s largest public square, held an interfaith ceremony with free public transportation for anyone who wished to attend.

Tributes continued to pour in on Friday for the Nobel Laureate and global symbol of revolution. Flags were lowered at the United Nations in Manhattan, New York, and the U.N General Assembly observed a moment of silence.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced the creation of the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice, to be opened next year at the Boys and Girls High School campus that Mandela visited in 1990, months after he was released from serving 27 years of a life sentence in prison.

“Equal opportunity and access to education were among the many things Nelson Mandela spent his life fighting for,” said Bloomberg on Friday. “Renaming the campus he visited shortly after his release from prison, will forever serve as a reminder that our mandate as public servants is to provide our children with the weapons they need for a successful future and help us build a City of inclusion and opportunity that Madiba could be proud of.”

Fellow New Yorker, fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also paid tribute to Mandela on Friday while accepting the 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize on Capitol Hill.

“As I spent time with him starting in 1992, I was always struck by the extraordinary depth of his self-knowledge. Of his awareness of how hard it is to live a life of integrity, of service, but to combine with oneself the contradictions he lived with–lawyer, freedom fighter; prisoner, leader; anger, forgiveness,” she said. “It has so captured the hearts of not only people in his country, but people around the world.”

The loss was particularly acute on the African continent, where many in South Africa and from neighboring countries celebrated Mandela’s achievements, but openly worried about the consequences of his absence. Tutu tried to assuage those concerns on Thursday, speaking in a statement to the permanence of Mandela’s work.

“To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames–as some have predicted–is to discredit South Africans and Madiba’s legacy,” he said. “The sun will rise tomorrow.”

World leaders of all stripes set aside conflicting ideologies to honor the man who’s spirit transcended political barriers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India call Mandela “a giant among men,” while his British counterpart, David Cameron, said “a great light has gone out in the world.” Russian President Vladimir Putin commemorated Mandela’s commitment to “the ideals of humanism and justice,” and Pope Francis honored Mandela’s work “in promoting the human dignity of all the nation’s citizens.” In China, state media hailed Mandela as an “old friend” whose relationship with the Chinese people “will still be ever-lasting.” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Mandela’s death was “a great loss for all the peoples of the world,” and declared that the Palestinian people would “never forget his statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free.” While in Israel, President Shimon Peres said ”Mandela’s legacy to his people and to the world will remain etched in the pages of history and in the hearts of all of those whose lives he touched, and who will remember him forever.”

MSNBC Live with Tamron Hall , 12/6/13, 3:09 PM ET

Nelson Mandela: ‘A man for all ages’

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Barry Denenberg talk about the legacy of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Mandela unites the world once more