South Africans hold pictures of Nelson Mandela
South Africans hold pictures of Nelson Mandela as they pay tribute following his death in Johannesburg. Photo by AFP
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"Nelson Mandela was one of the outstanding figures of our time," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement last night. "He was the father of his nation, a man of vision, a fighter for freedom who avoided violence. He was a humble man who provided a personal example for his nation during the long years he spent in prison."

Netanyahu continued that Mandela "worked to heal the rifts in South African society and succeeded, through the power of his character, in preventing racial hatred. He will be remembered as the father of the new South Africa and a moral leader of the highest order."

Government leaders throughout the world paid tribute to Nelson Mandela last night. United States President Barack Obama said that he was inspired by Mandela to take his first political steps as a youth and become active in an anti-apartheid protest.

"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," Obama said from the White House within hours of South African President Jacob Zuma's announcement of Mandela's death.

Obama said he had studied Mandela's writings and learned from Mandela's release from prison "what human beings can do when they're guided by their hopes and not by their fears."

"Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set," he said. "And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him."

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president, said he and Mandela first met each other in 1989 and concluded they could do business with each other, as the country embarked on its long-awaited transition to democratic rule.

"Although we were political opponents — and although our relationship was often stormy — we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process," De Klerk said in a statement.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said: "The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nelson Mandela was "a giant for justice," whose "selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom" inspired many people around the world.

"No one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations," Ban told reporters soon after Mandela's death was announced Thursday.

In the UN Security Council, which was in session when Mandela's death was announced, representatives stood spontaneously and observed a minute's silence in honor of the anti-apartheid icon.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Mandela as an example for humanity whose legacy will inspire people worldwide.

"Even many years in prison could not break Nelson Mandela or make him bitter - his message of reconciliation ultimately led to a new, better South Africa," Merkel said.

"Nelson Mandela's luminous example and his political legacy of non-violence and rejection of all forms of racism will remain an inspiration for people the world over for a long time still."

The people of South Africa reacted Friday with deep sadness at the loss of a man considered by many to be the father of the nation, while mourners said it was also a time to celebrate the achievements of the anti-apartheid leader who emerged from prison to become South Africa's first black president.

As the news of Nelson Mandela's death spread across South Africa, residents of Soweto gathered in the streets near the house where he once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his colossal life.