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 out about the life and legacy of the former South African leader.


“We’ve lost our greatest son.”

Jacob Zuma

President of South Africa

“Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. … He achieved more than could be expected of any man. … We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.”

Barack Obama

President of the United States

“The people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have 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.”

Jimmy Carter

Former U.S. president

“(He was) one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time.”

George W. Bush

Former U.S. president

“What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world.”

Idris Elba

Actor in the title role of ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

“He had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers . . . setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all.”

George H.W. Bush

First U.S. president to welcome Mandela to the White House

“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.”

Bill Clinton

Former U.S. president

“His words and deeds … inspired millions … to stand in abiding solidarity with one another. … (He) embodied the finest and most noble qualities of the human spirit …”

Angus King

U.S. senator from Maine

“Through his dignity, grace and the quality of his forgiveness, he made racism everywhere not just immoral but stupid; something not only to be disagreed with, but to be despised. In its place he put the inalienable right of all humankind to be free and to be equal.”

Tony Blair

Former British prime minister

“A heroic individual of consummate dignity and courage, he shone with a light that will forever cast its glow on the history of humankind.”

Olympia Snowe

Former U.S. senator from Maine

“He went on to overcome adversity with a grace and purpose that not only moved his nation, but countless others toward justice and freedom.”

Mike Michaud

U.S. representative from Maine

“(He was) a man of quiet dignity and towering achievement, a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration.”

Ban Ki-moon

U.N. secretary general

“(He will) be remembered as the founder of a vibrant democracy who brought justice and freedom to millions.”

Susan Collins

U.S. senator from Maine

“A great light has gone out in the world.”

David Cameron

British prime minister

“Even when faced with the cruelty of apartheid, even when he was put in prison for his political beliefs, he continued to believe that peace, nonviolence and dialogue would triumph over injustice.”

Chellie Pingree

U.S. representative from Maine

“To lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out (of prison after 27 years), I think that’s a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was.”

Tiger Woods

Professional golfer

Mandela engaged in one of the world’s most vital postwar tasks: dismantling the strong web of racist ideas, with which certain Western thinkers had sought for more than a century to rationalize the subjugation of others through colonialism, segregation and disenfranchisement.

The Washington Post


“The world has lost … an inspiration to humanity today. Haiti will never forget this great leader.”

Laurent Lamothe

Prime Minister of Haiti, the world’s first black republic (1804)

“He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should re-ignite a worldwide effort for peace.”

Paul Simon

Singer/songwriter who made Graceland tour in Africa

“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.”

Kofi Annan

Former U.N. secretary general

“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.”

Morgan Freeman

U.S. actor, who portrayed Mandela in the 2009 film, “Invictus.”

“Mandela is not only the father of democracy in South Africa, but is also a symbol of democracy. 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.”

Michel Martelly

President of Haiti

“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.”

Francois Hollande

President of France

“I idolized him so much. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow.”

Franco Gaskin, 85, of Harlem

Artist who painted a mural of Mandela and remembers his visit in 1990

“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. He also made us understand that we can change the world. We can change the world by changing the attitudes.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar pro-democracy leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate

“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.”

Manmohan Singh

Prime minister of India

“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.”

Tony Abbott

Prime minister of Australia

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