THEY called him “a great man, a son of the soil”. Last night, in their first public statement since his death, Nelson Mandela’s family came together to pay tribute to their father, who died on Thursday at the age of 95.
In an emotional address, the family said: “The pillar of the royal Mandela family is no more with us physically, but his spirit is still with us.
“We have lost a great man, a son of the soil whose greatness in our family was in the simplicity of his nature in our midst – a caring family leader who made time for all and on that score we will miss him dearly.”
Family spokesman Lt Gen Themba Matanzima said it had “not been easy for the last few days” since the former president died.
“The pillar of the family is gone, just as he was away during that 27 painful years of imprisonment, but in our hearts and souls he will always be with us, his spirit endures,” he said.
“As a family we commit ourselves to uphold and be guided by the values he lived for and was prepared to die for.
“As a family we learned from him to appreciate the values that made him the leader that was recognised by all. Chief among these is the lesson that a life lived for others is a life well-lived.”
Downing Street said that Prime Minister David Cameron has written to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma and Mandela’s widow Graca Machel to express his condolences.
A spokeswoman said: “The PM paid tribute to Mandela’s extraordinary grace and dignity and the example that he set not just to South Africa but to the world on his release from Robben Island, saying ‘he gave the world new hope that the deepest wounds can be healed and that freedom and reconciliation can triumph over division and hate.’ The PM concluded: ‘He will forever have a distinguished place in history. It falls to all of us and future generations to learn from him and try to realise his extraordinary legacy’.”
Politicians, celebrities and the public across the globe yesterday spoke with reverence of their memories of Mandela and in recognition of his work.
The Prince of Wales described the Nobel Peace Prize winner as “the embodiment of courage and reconciliation”.
Westminster Abbey will hold a national service of thanksgiving for the life of Mandela after the state funeral in South Africa next Sunday, and parliament will hold a special ceremony to commemorate his life.
Books of condolence have been opened across the country. Former members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) spoke of their grief at his death and their relief that he was at peace after a long illness.
Jerry Dammers, the founder of The Specials and writer of Free Nelson Mandela, urged people to honour Mandela’s legacy by doing the work he started.
He said: “’The best way we can remember him and politicians can remember him – the best tribute they could pay to him – would be to listen to what he said and act on what he said.”
Meanwhile Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since his country’s independence from Britain in 1980 and supported Mandela’s ANC during its struggle against the apartheid regime, paid his first public tribute to the deceased leader yesterday.
Despite himself being accused by critics of increasingly authoritarian rule, Mugabe praised Mandela as a champion of democracy and “an unflinching fighter for justice.” “Nelson Mandela’s renowned and illustrious political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence,” Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper The Herald quoted Mugabe as saying.
Meanwhile Idris Elba, the star of the recently released film based on Mandela’s life, revealed he put down the phone when he got the call asking him to play Nelson Mandela on the big screen.
The star of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom spoke about the role in an interview in which he said he was grieving after the death of his own father just six weeks previously. The world learned of the death of Mandela as royalty, celebrities and fans – including Elba and the former leader’s daughter Zindzi Mandela – were watching the royal premiere of the film in central London chronicling his incredible life.
Speaking before Mandela died, Elba said: “You know, I was really, really sensitive [about the role].
“My agent called up to ask if I wanted to play Mandela and I put the phone down on him. I was like, no way. Mandela? Couldn’t do it.
“Then I thought to myself, called him back and said, ‘Can I be honest? If it’s a grey-haired version of the fist-pumping Mandela, I’m not the actor to bring in.
“I’m not Morgan [Freeman, who played Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus]; go with Morgan.
“And he said, ‘Well, that’s not the version they’re doing’.”
Elba changed his mind after some persuasion from the film’s director Justin Chadwick.
At Mandela’s house in Houghton, Johannesburg, hundreds of people gathered yesterday where they sang liberation songs and homages to Mandela.
They walked through the streets of Houghton, past expansive, stately homes carrying bundles of flowers and images of Mandela. One young girl, held by her father, carried flowers torn from a garden, weeds included.
Precious Ncayiyana, a pharmacist, carried a painting of Mandela made from old newspaper clippings about him.
His left eye bore the number 4664, Mandela’s former inmate number, while his right eye said Madiba, his clan name.
Ncayiyana said she planned to drive the painting’s artist to Pretoria so he could make a painting of the leader’s body lying in state. “It’s my way of contributing to Madiba’s legacy. He’s gone, but his spirit lives on,” she said.
As the chanting and cheering behind her grew louder, she raised her voice to add: “If you see someone you can help, it doesn’t cost anything . . . That’s what he taught us.”