A man wearing a T-shirt with a portrait of former president Nelson Mandela leads a group of mourners as they sing and dance outside the Johannesburg home of Mandela Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 after the freedom fighter passed away Thursday night after a long illness.
In nearly seven decades spent fighting for freedom and equality, Nelson Mandela inspired and challenged the world to stand up for others. As word of Mandela's death spread, current and former presidents, athletes and entertainers, and people around the world spoke about the life and legacy of the former South African leader.
From Harlem to Hollywood, Paris to Beijing, people hailed Mandela's indomitable courage in the face of adversity as an inspiration for all. In a testament to his universal appeal, political leaders of various stripes joined activists in paying tribute to Mandela as a heroic force for peace and reconciliation.
Some knew Mandela personally while many only knew him from afar, but they shared how they drew inspiration from his strength and looked to live his message of continuing the struggle against social injustice and for human rights.
"He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," said U.S. President Barack Obama, who shares with Mandela the distinction of being his nation's first black president.
Former U.N. 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."
President Xi Jinping of China, which supported apartheid's opponents throughout the Cold War, praised Mandela's victory in the anti-apartheid struggle and his contribution to "the cause of human progress."
For Chinese rights activists, Mandela's death served as a reminder that one of their own symbols of freedom, Nobel Peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, remained imprisoned by Chinese authorities. "This moment magnifies how evil the current regime is," Beijing activist Hu Jia said.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who had personal connections with Mandela, said the people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world had lost a great leader.
"His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies," Carter said in a statement.
Prince William and his wife, Kate, were attending the London film premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" when Mandela's death was announced.
"We were just reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was," William said.
" As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we've come, but on how far we have to go," said the U.S. actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the 2009 film, "Invictus."
In Haiti, a Caribbean nation that became the world's first black republic in 1804 through a successful slave revolt, Mandela symbolized the struggle for black equality.
"Mandela is not only the father of democracy in South Africa, but is also a symbol of democracy," said Haitian President Michel Martelly. "And like any symbol, he is not dead. He is present in all of us and guides us by his lifestyle, his courage and faith in the true struggle for equality."
"Mandela's message will not disappear. It will continue to inspire those fighting for freedom and to give confidence to people defending just causes and universal rights," said French President Francois Hollande, who is hosting dozens of African leaders this week for a summit on peace and security.
In New York City's Harlem neighborhood, artist Franco Gaskin, 85, stood before a mural featuring Mandela he had painted on a storefront gate almost 20 years ago. He remembered a Mandela visit there in 1990. "It was dynamic, everyone was so electrified to see him in Harlem," Gaskin said. "I idolized him so much. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow."
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."
"I would like to express my extreme grief at the passing away of the man who stood for human rights and for equality in this world," she said at a forum. "He also made us understand that we can change the world. We can change the world by changing attitudes."
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh compared Mandela to his country's own icon for the struggle for freedom, independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.
"A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India's loss as South Africa's. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Mandela as one of the great figures of the 20th century who had healed a broken country. "While the world may never see another Nelson Mandela, he has inspired countless men and women throughout the world to live more courageous and honest lives," Abbott said in a statement.
At the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., on display is a photograph of the U.S. boxing great with Mandela, their hands clenched into fists as if they're boxing.
"He made us realize, we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colors," Ali said in a statement. "What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge."
Mandela was mourned in Cuba, which has long felt a close bond with the late South African leader. Havana considered him a hero for supporting it amid U.S. and international criticism.
"Exceptional human being, example for the world, Father of multiracial South Africa, the endearing friend of Fidel and Cuba," journalist Juana Carrasco of the Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde said via Twitter. "Long live Mandela!"
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