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Flags lowered for Mandela

French politicians have hailed ‘an exceptional resistance fighter’ and a champion of equality and fraternity

PRESIDENT Hollande has ordered flags be lowered in France today in honour of former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday aged 95.

Mr Hollande called Mandela “an exceptional resistance fighter” and a “magnificent combatant”, “the incarnation of the South-African nation, the cement of its unity and the pride of the whole of Africa.”

His words were echoed by French politicians across the board.

On a visit to China yesterday, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “The whole of humanity is in mourning. France is part of that. Today she stands alongside the South Africans who are grieving for this great man.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius called Mandela a “charismatic giant” and “the father of South Africa”, “universally admired”, adding he admired him especially on a personal level because fighting apartheid had always been one of his own main concerns.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira made a highly personal tribute on the French version of news website Huffington Post, in which she referred to Mandela with names including his birth name Rohihlahla (colloquially meaning “troublemaker”) – “Nelson” having been given by a teacher when he started school – and “Madiba”, the late leader’s clan name, a respectful way of referring to him. She concluded with some verses by poet Pablo Neruda and the phrase: “Rest in peace, Madiba. Our hearts, your shroud.”

Former Culture Minister Jack Lang, who organised Mandela’s visit to France in 1990, said Mandela was an example to new generations, at a time when “politics is often looked down on”. He added: “He shows that politics can be marked by courage, conviction and faithfulness to an ideal”.

Socialist Party First Secretary and president of SOS Racisme Harlem Désir said: “The world has lost its greatest fighter against racism and a universal figure of equality and fraternity.”

UMP President Jean-François Copé called Mandela “one of the most beautiful members of humanity… an exceptional man who put all his intelligence and charisma to the service of the most noble values” and “a source of inspiration to all politicians”.

Former Prime Minister François Fillon referred to “one of the most shining figures of modern times”.

Mandela, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, was president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, the first black South African to hold the post and the first elected by universal suffrage. He was imprisoned for 27 years for his anti-apartheid activism and released in 1990.

He died at home in Johannesburg after a long illness.

Photo: South Africa The Good News /

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