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‘Democracy has lost loyal friend’
South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela died peacefully at his Johannesburg home yesterday, South Africa president Jacob Zuma announced via a nationally televised address. Mandela was 95. Zuma ordered national flags to be flown at half-mast as South Africans were thrown into a state of mourning.
Mandela, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his long struggles for the liberation of South Africans from oppressive white rule, had been described as critical but stable since he was discharged from hospital. He died after a prolonged lung infection. In a statement last night, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the world had lost a freedom fighter and statesman. “The world has lost democracy's most loyal friend and advocate,” she said.
Describing Mandela as the 20th century's icon of freedom and liberty, she added: “He inspired us to believe that no obstacle is too large, no walk is too long and no enemy of freedom is so powerful that we should ever consider giving in. “His life will surely become one of the most epic stories in world history, of the true depth and strength of the human spirit. He inspired us with his life, his words, his work and his triumph.”
Persad-Bissessar said Mandela would forever be remembered as a man who fought for freedom and won it for millions around the world, without once compromising his beliefs or his principles. “The legacy he has left us is one we shall always celebrate and we shall always thank God for Nelson Mandela. The prayers, love and support of the people of T&T are with his family and those close to him. “May he rest in peace knowing that he leaves behind many who will continue his fight.”
Stunned, shocked and sad were the words South Africa’s High Commissioner to T&T, Maureen Modifelle, used to describe her emotions after she heard the news yesterday. Modifelle said she heard of Mandela’s passing on a television at the airport in St Lucia where she was awaiting a flight back to T&T. “We were sort of half expecting this but when it actually happened it was unbelievable,” Modifelle told the T&T Guardian. “I just wish I was home,” she added.
Modifelle, who said she has been given extra countries to preside over, one of them being St Lucia, said by some “strange coincidence,” she and that country’s Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, and other government officials all spoke of Mandela at a meeting earlier yesterday. She added: “One is hoping he’s at peace and rest. He came to this earth and fought a good fight. It remains for us to continue to preach peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. These are the words you think of when you think about Mandela.
“We must pray for his immediate family and for South Africans and, in particular, for his spirit to rest.” Modifelle said she had not yet spoken to anyone from the South African Commission in T&T about plans to observe Mandela’s passing but would have a meeting today to discuss the matter.
He will live on
Movement for Social Justice David Abdulah said all knew the end had been near for Mandela, given he had been gravely ill for several months, but news of his passing was still shocking. Abdulah said Mandela, as a fighter for freedom and justice, was not a talker but a doer. “He will live on in us through our deeds. Nelson Mandela has indeed walked the talk and his leg of the long walk to freedom has now ended.
“Others must take up the baton and continue the journey. Let us all try to be a little more like him, dedicating his life to improving the well being of his fellow citizens and of humanity,” he added.
Larger than life
Independent Liberal Party (ILP) interim leader Jack Warner, who was instrumental in Nelson Mandela’s visit to T&T in May 2004, said his testimony was that one must never give up and give in, no matter what the ridicule or level of detraction. He said Mandela’s fight showed that an oppressive regime could never last. Warner, during a CNC 3 television interview last night, said one of the most memorable things for him during Mandela’s visit to T&T occurred during a youth rally at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain.
Warner said a child asked Mandela: “Are you Nelson Mandela?” He said Mandela replied: “No, I am your friend, your father.” Warner said Mandela possessed a very philosophical mind that inspired his words and actions. “There is much we can learn from the legacy of Mandela.” The Emancipation Support Committee (ESC), during Mandela’s visit to T&T, had resisted plans to take him to the Country Club, associated with the local white elite.
In a CNC 3 interview last night, Khafra Kambon said: “You feel a sense of sadness, even though you had known for a long time his life on earth was over. You feel that some people are larger than life and should be around for a long time.” “He was a man fighting for his people and against the western world. People all over the world felt themselves to be a part of the struggle,” he added. Kambon said people must realise how deep-seated racism is and have the courage to stand up against it.
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