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Obama, American leaders reflect on Mandela’s legacy

Flowers left by mourners surround a portrait of Nelson Mandela in the Sandton district of Johannesburg Friday. Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

In the hours that have passed since South African President Jacob Zuma announced his nation had “lost its greatest son,” there has been a universal outpouring of sadness for the loss, and innumerable tributes of admiration for the man who went from 27-year prisoner to president, transforming his country and the world.

“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” President Barack Obama said Thursday at the White House. The Morning Line

“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set, to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice,” the president added. “For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived, a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

Watch the president’s full remarks here or below:

All of Mr. Obama’s living predecessors also paid tribute.

Former President George W. Bush called Mandela “one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time.”

“History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation,” said former President Bill Clinton. “We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life.”

Former President George H.W. Bush praised Mandela’s “remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment — setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all.”

And former President Jimmy Carter said Mandela’s “passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide.”

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan, Craig Timberg and DeNeen Brown report on the scene Friday outside Mandela’s home:

In South Africa, where Mandela rose from prisoner to president, crowds gathered to sing and dance outside his home in Houghton, an upscale Johannesburg neighborhood, where he died with his family beside him. Makeshift tributes of candles, flowers and photographs were piled against trees and buildings. In Soweto — the home to some of the worst apartheid-era strife — black and white South Africans joined hands in mourning.

Crowds were also congregating in a mall in Sandton, where a huge statue of Mandela stands in a square named after him. Mourners placed bouquets of flowers and notes near the statue. South Africans gathered in Pretoria, the seat of government, to remember him as well.

Media outlets in South Africa reported that Mandela’s body had been transported to a military hospital in Pretoria. There, it will most likely be embalmed and prepared for a public memorial service. The state has not yet announced a date for Mandela’s funeral.

There were reports Thursday that President Obama is expected to travel to South Africa to attend Mandela’s funeral.

The New York Time’s Michael Shear notes how the president’s path to the White House was influenced by Mandela:

Without Nelson Mandela, there might never have been a President Obama.

That is the strong impression conveyed from Mr. Obama, whose political and personal bonds to Mr. Mandela, the former South African president, transcended their single face-to-face meeting, which took place at a hotel here in 2005.

It was the fight for racial justice in South Africa by Mr. Mandela that first inspired a young Barack Obama to public service, the American president recalled on Thursday evening after hearing that Mr. Mandela, the 95-year-old world icon, had died. Mr. Obama delivered his first public speech, in 1979, at an anti-apartheid rally.

Mr. Obama’s first moment on the public stage was the start of a life and political career imbued with the kind of hope that Mr. Mandela personified. “The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday.

“Hope” would eventually become the mantra for his ascension to the White House.

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson examined how Mandela’s cause shaped Mr. Obama’s politics.

The NewsHour dedicated nearly the full hour Thursday to coverage of Nelson Mandela, including an 18-minute remembrance from former senior correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who interviewed Mandela on several occasions.

You can watch the full obituary here:

The package contains a clip of her interview with Mandela just days after he was released from prison in 1990:

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Were you aware of this mythical character that was being built up in the outside world, through portraits on television, movies, this sort of thing? And did that concern you at all, or…

NELSON MANDELA: Well, that worried me a bit.


NELSON MANDELA: Because I wanted to be presented as I am. And I’m an ordinary human being, with weaknesses. And you don’t want that to be built up into something that you are not.

Hunter-Gault also recounts in an online post for the NewsHour the experience of meeting Mandela for the first time.

For further reflection and analysis, Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill spoke with Gay McDougall of the South African Election Commission; Douglas Foster, journalism professor and author of “After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa”; Ambassador Donald Gips, who represented the U.S. in South Africa from 2009 to 2013; and John Stremlau, vice president for peace programs at the Carter Center.

You can watch their conversation here or below:

NewsHour online has a slideshow of Mandela’s life and the end of apartheid in South Africa. And Frontline created a timeline of Mandela’s life and death through Facebook.


  • President Obama sat down with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for an interview Thursday. Conservatives attacked the event, held in a theater at American University before an audience of students, because it had displaced a children’s ballet company from rehearsing for their holiday performance Sunday.

  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday signed into law a sweeping overhaul of state’s underfunded pension system.

  • An economic policy feud within the Democratic Party is growing, after it was highlighted Thursday by backlash from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Democratic supporters of populism who disagreed with a critical op-ed from center-left think tank Third Way.

  • California Gov. Jerry Brown appears to be in good shape for re-election next year, with nearly 60 percent of the state’s voters approving of the Democrat’s job performance, according to a new Field Poll.

  • Politico — and a lot of Republicans — are waiting to hear from Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi on whether he’ll run for a seventh term in 2014.

  • The White House acknowledged Thursday that the president briefly lived with his Kenyan uncle in Cambridge prior to attending Harvard Law School in the 1980s. During a deportation hearing earlier this week, Oyango Obama said his nephew stayed with him for three weeks. That contradicted a previous statement by a White House spokesperson saying there was no record of the two men ever meeting.

  • House Speaker John Boehner said the Republican Party should be “more sensitive” to women and support gay candidates.

  • Will Oremus at Slate reignites the Blackberry vs. iPhone debate in D.C. by explaining why Mr. Obama can carry the former for security reasons.

  • Bloomberg Businessweek examined how the Politico model of news coverage may work in New York.

  • The New York Times’ Peter Baker goes deep into analysis of what the president’s reading list suggests about his inner thoughts.

  • The American Jacket Company kickstarter needs $50,000 to make sportswear emblazoned with political logos.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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