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Nelson Mandela Hailed as 'Hero,' 'Greatest Teacher,' 'True Giant'

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for fighting white minority rule, died Thursday night South Africa time at the age of 95.

Nelson Mandela (Photo by Barbara Kinney, AFP/Getty Images)
Nelson Mandela (Photo by Barbara Kinney, AFP/Getty Images)

Southern California reacted with grief to news of the death Thursday of former South African president Nelson Mandela, with actors and political leaders calling him a "hero," a "true giant" and the "greatest teacher."

Mandela died Thursday night South Africa time at the age of 95. He had battled health issues in recent years, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations.

Actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the film "Invictus,'' hailed him as a "true giant.''

"Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century,'' Freeman said. "Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength and unyielding resolve – a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind."

Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting white minority rule in South Africa, becoming the world's most prominent political prisoner. He was freed in February 1990 by then-President F.W. de Klerk, and the two went on to earn the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of apartheid. Mandela became president the next year.

In southwest Riverside County, the president of Lake Elsinore NAACP Branch 1034, Mary Venerable, spoke of Mandela's influence.

"The death of Nelson Mandela was received with great sorrow for the loss of a man known as the Father of South Africa," Venerable said.

"We are reminded that he lived a long life working for the rights of the people of South Africa," Venerable continued. "President Mandela’s goal and objectives were related to the goals of the NAACP and our Branch. We are influenced by his actions after spending 27 years as a political prisoner which served to support the actions of our Branch to develop community support activities."

Venerable said Mandela's memory shall always serve.

"We were encouraged by his efforts to end apartheid and we will hold to his efforts to end discrimination in our nation. We will honor him at our Black History Month Celebration in February 2014 during which we will recognize him as a leader who promoted the ideals of human dignity, freedom and democratic values," she added.

History and its lessons were surely being reflected on amongst California’s political leaders, as well.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a statement that said: “The world has lost a great leader with the passing of Nelson Mandela. He commanded an unwavering fight to end apartheid in South Africa, and his resolve inspired generations of leaders around the world to fight against inequality. He is a hero who led with grace and compassion. His spirit will live on in the hearts and minds of those who continue the fight for justice.”

Rep. Susan Davis of San Diego said she was saddened by Mandela's passing but thankful for what he accomplished.

“The moment the news came I felt both saddened and thankful," Davis said. "While we mourn one of the world's most consequential contributors to humanitarian progress, we thank Nelson Mandela for what he taught us about sacrifice, freedom and equality."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that with "the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost one of its greatest teachers—a model of compassion, strength, and peace."

Congressman Alan Lowenthal, who represents Long Beach and surrounding areas, called Mandela a hero but added that his "life was "larger than words."

"For a man who gave so much, who survived and triumphed over crushing adversity and in the processes helped free his nation from the shackles of apartheid, now it is his turn to rest," Lowenthal said. "The South African people have lost a great leader and the world has lost a great man."

—City News Service and Patch staff contributed to this report.

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