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‘Man of the century’


Media mourn loss of Nelson Mandela


By Isobel Leybold-Johnson



The Swiss press has hailed the legacy of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday aged 95, but wonder what his death will mean for the future of his nation.

Flags flew at half-mast in South Africa after President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela’s death in a late night television address. Mandela spent years in jail before, as the country’s first black president in 1994, leading the transition from white minority rule and ending apartheid.

The Swiss president, Ueli Maurer, said it was with "great sadness" that he learned of Mandela's death. In a statement on Friday morning, he offered his sincere condolences on behalf of the Swiss population and the government and "shares with the South African people their great pain on this very sad occasion".

The media was also quick to react. For Zurich’s Tages Anzeiger  Mandela was the ‘man of the century’. “He was the face of a more humane world,” it said. 

“Had it not been for this scion of the African Xhosa aristocracy, South Africa’s history would have been different,” it added. He did not leave prison a bitter man, but instead used a mix of wisdom, generosity and sticking to his principles to unify the racially-divided country, the paper pointed out.

He managed to take into account both “the fears of the white minority and the anger of the black majority”. And this made him an icon not only for South Africa but the whole world.

International reactions

"He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," said United States President Barack Obama, who shares with Mandela the distinction of being his nation's first black president.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said the world had lost "a visionary leader, a courageous voice for justice and a clear moral compass." Both Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were part of Mandela's group of statesmen known as The Elders.

"God was so good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela to be our president at a crucial moment in our history," Tutu said. "He inspired us to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation and so South Africa did not go up in flames."

“Mandela's message will not disappear," said French President François Hollande, who is hosting dozens of African leaders this week for a summit on peace and security.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi paid tribute to Mandela as a "great human being who raised the standard of humanity."

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron added, “a great light has gone out in the world".

"Made the world better"

The tabloid Blick also took a global outlook: “he made the world better” read the headline on its front page.

“South Africa, the African continent, the whole world mourns. The freedom fighter who overcame apartheid, the Nobel Peace Prize holder, has lost his last fight,” it said.

The world and South Africa had prepared itself for Mandela’s death, as he had been in decline since summer, with a lung infection, a consequence of his time in prison, added the paper.

Geneva’s Le Temps carried a long obituary on Mandela, “the apostle of reconciliation”, considering the life and legacy of “Madiba” as he is affectionately known in South Africa. For the Tribune de Genève, he was “Africa’s moral conscience”. It was, the newspaper added, “the death of a giant”.

“A wise political hero,” was how the Italian-speaking Corriere del Ticino saw Mandela. What would the “furiously divided by skin colour” country be without him, it asked, as it was he who realised that democracy needed a spirit of national reconciliation.

The influential Neue Zürcher Zeitung considered that, “South Africa’s liberator” did not make “a hell into a paradise. But thanks to him South Africa found its way back into history, even with its problems.

The modernised and economically dynamic country is still beset by an “explosive” wealth divide, corruption, violence, rapes, criminality and drug addiction, overseen by a current president “who is not exactly a moral leading light”.

But the Tages Anzeiger considered that the dream of the rainbow nation was within reach. “To reclaim the qualities of dignity, stability and deep humanity of its former president would be the best gift that the South Africans could pass on to their children sons on [Mandela’s] death. This also applies to the rest of humanity.”

By Isobel Leybold-Johnson, swissinfo.ch



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