Flags lowered in tribute to 'the greatest statesman'
Political and religious leaders across the Westcountry have joined millions around the world in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, many citing his struggle to bring freedom to South Africa as an inspiration for their own careers.
The former prisoner, charismatic leader, world statesman and first black president of his country, who is credited with averting civil war after the end of the racist apartheid system, died at home on Thursday, aged 95.
In a televised address, the country's president, Jacob Zuma, said: "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.
Prime Minister David Cameron led the tributes in the UK, saying: "A great light has gone out in the world."
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Flags were flown at half-mast in Exeter, Plymouth and Truro as a mark of respect, as the South African community honoured an almost universally adored figure.
Exeter Cathedral opened a book of remembrance in its Justice, Peace and Creation Chapel and the city's anti-apartheid movement is organising a commemoration vent to be held in the main shopping centre today.
Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw said the movement to rid South Africa of racism inspired him to become involved in student politics.
The former Culture Secretary added: "My first political act was to take part in a letter-writing campaign organised by Amnesty International when I was a teenager to South African newspapers calling for Mandela's release and an end to Apartheid.
"For many people of my generation the anti-racism and anti-apartheid cause he symbolised was one of the main reasons we got involved in politics.
"His address to the Labour conference in 2000 was one of the best moments of my life. He was undoubtedly the greatest statesman of our age, who not only ensured South Africa's transition to democracy was relatively peaceful, but who symbolised the fight against racism and discrimination, which goes on."
Born Rolihlahla Mandela, in Mvezo, in 1918, in South Africa's Eastern Cape, the son of a Thembu tribal chief went on to become a lawyer before joining the banned freedom movement, the African National Congress. He was jailed for 26 years before relaxation by the regime led to his historic release in 1990, followed by his election as first president of a democratic Republic of South Africa four years later.
Mr Mandela took centre stage when South Africa hosted and won the Rugby World Cup and during the Football World Cup of 2010.
But in January 2011, the former president was admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection and he suffered repeated infections over the next two years, partly the result of damage done to his lungs while working in a prison quarry.
The Bishop of Crediton, the Right Reverend Nick McKinnel, who is standing in as Bishop of Exeter after the departure of Michael Langrish, said Mandela's life, as documented in his celebrated book, was a lesson to us all.
"He shows us how truth and reconciliation can triumph over hatred and division," he said.
"For someone who endured such hardship and injustice to forgive those who treated him so badly should inspire all of us to find ways of living and accepting even those who have done us wrong."
He added: "His going brings a sense of sadness and relief. I found his book an inspiring read and remember very clearly the TV pictures when he was released and the hope and joy that seemed to bring."
Exeter's South African community also paid tribute to their "father of freedom", whose efforts to rid his country of white-minority rule made him a global icon.
John Lloyd, one of the founders of the anti-apartheid movement in Exeter, is organising a commemoration in Bedford Square, Princesshay on Saturday at 7pm.
City resident Nicola Van Staden said: "As an 11-year-old girl in South Africa, I was lucky enough to be present at Nelson Mandela's 1994 inauguration.
"I was stood in front of his town car when it pulled up and it was at that moment – even as a young child – that I understood the magnitude of what he was doing for my country.
"He played such a big part in my upbringing – through him we watched our home land become a diverse and ethnically rich country.
"Today we celebrate his life, what he did for all his children and what he will continue to do because of his great visions. But bitter sweetly – we also say goodbye to a legend who we all saw as our country's father."
Plymouth City Council also lowered the South African "rainbow" flag, which was created to incorporate the colours of the ANC.
Labour council leader Tudor Evans said he was "mourning for a hero", adding: "I remember that walk to freedom as if it were yesterday.
"His struggle for equality and democracy will be remembered forever. The anti-apartheid movement was a pivotal part of most liberal and left political people's lives for 30 years or more, and Mr Mandela's incarceration served as a powerful rallying point."
In Cornwall, flags were flying at half-mast outside County Hall in Truro.
Council chairman John Wood said: "We are deeply saddened by the news; Nelson Mandela was a truly outstanding man of our time, he leaves a legacy of peace."
The Lib Dem MP for St Ives, Andrew George, paid his condolences with a pointed reference to Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, tweeting: "Long Walk completed. RIP. A towering figure and an inspiration to all."
A world mourns – Page 15