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Pope, Italian leaders pay tribute to Nelson Mandela

Prays South Africa's first black president will keep inspiring

06 December, 17:03
Pope, Italian leaders pay tribute to Nelson Mandela (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, December 6 - Pope Francis, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Premier Enrico Letta joined the worldwide tributes to Nelson Mandela on Friday.

The leader of the opposition to the country's racist white-minority apartheid regime died on Thursday aged 95.

He spent 27 years in jail before becoming South Africa's first black president in 1994.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with FW de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, for engineering a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. "It was with sadness that I learned of the death of former President Nelson Mandela, and I send prayerful condolences to all the Mandela family, to the members of the government and to all the people of South Africa," Pope Francis said in a telegram to South African President Jacob Zuma.

"In commending the soul of the deceased to the infinite mercy of almighty God, I ask the Lord to console and strengthen all who mourn his loss. "Paying tribute to the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation's citizens and in forging a new South Africa built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth, I pray that the late president's example will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and the common good at the forefront of their political aspirations. "With these sentiments, I invoke upon all the people of South Africa divine gifts of peace and prosperity".

Napolitano said he was "moved" and felt "great sadness" when he heard of the death. "His irrepressible yearning for liberty, human dignity and equality beat the barbarity of apartheid," read the head of State's message to Zuma. "With his life he showed that a fairer, more supportive world, where diversity is a symptom of richness, is possible.

"It is an indelible merit that he knew how to preside over the peaceful transition in his country, distinguished by truth and reconciliation, from apartheid to peaceful coexistence. "He is an example to those he leaves behind, along with his ideals and his extraordinary moral legacy. "These pass to the future generations and those who, in South Africa and the whole world, fight to build a more just, inclusive society, while rejecting violence". Letta said Mandela was "an example of generous commitment to rights and integration... values that inspire actions that the Italian government intends to pursue with power and determination". Foreign Minister Emma Bonino praised Mandela's "great intellectual honesty". "He was someone who gave due credit to de Klerk in overcoming apartheid, thus creating the foundation, in this recognition of the adversary, to what became the line of his entire presidency - reconciliation," said Bonino, who met Mandela when she was a European commissioner in the 1990s and attended his first address as president to the South African parliament in 1994. "This is a teaching that is extremely useful to us, even today, and in many countries". Three-time Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi described him as "a hero of freedom".

Some of Naples' famed Nativity-scene artisans honoured Mandela by putting statuettes of him in crèches in the shops. Former Italy and Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero paraphrased the words of the South African leader who, among other things, spearheaded his country's successful drive to host the 2010 soccer World Cup. "Sport has the power to change the world. The power to unite people. It speaks in a language that everyone understands.

Thank you, Mandela," Del Piero, a member of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning squad who now plays in Australia for Sydney, wrote on his website.

Congo-born Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first black cabinet member, wrote "GOODBYE MADIBA" on her Twitter account, @ckyenge.

Mandela was often called Madiba, which is his clan name, as well as "Tata" or father.

A minor member of Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party, meanwhile, was kicked out of the party on Friday after calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist following his death.

''Finally the terrorist Mandela, the beast who thirsted for white blood and was transformed into a hero by global propaganda, will find himself before all the people he killed with bombs in churches or with flaming tires around their necks,'' wrote Francesco Vartolo, who is a borough councillor in Verona, on his Facebook page.