Tributes are pouring in for Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, who along with pioneering today’s era of racial integration for his country also presided over the establishment of gay rights in South Africa.
Mandela, 95, had been suffering from a lung illness for a long time.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called him “a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration”.
Mandela was a Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the battle against white-minority rule in South Africa, of which he was the first black president, elected in 1994 after 27 years in prison on Robben Island.
After the Civil Union Act came into effect in South Africa on 30 November 2006, the island became one of the first places to host a civil union ceremony for a same-sex couple.
Mandela also helped push for equality for gay South Africans, and helped to make South Africa the continent’s first and so far only country with same-sex marriage.
South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Writing in the Independent on Friday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, famous for his role in helping to end apartheid and a key supporter of LGBT rights in South Africa, said: “Madiba’s own passion for equality and democracy as well as the enjoyment of inalienable rights for all must, to a very considerable extent, have been lit by the Biblical teaching of the infinite worth of everyone because of being created in the image of God.”
Edwin Sesange, director of the UK based African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group, said: “Today most African leaders are mourning the death of the greatest man of our time. Nelson Mandela non-violently fought for the equality and justice for all. He championed decriminalization of homosexuality in South Africa against all odds.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking outside Downing Street, said: “One of the brightest lights of our world has gone out.
“Nelson Mandela was not just a hero of our time, but a hero of all time.”
US President Barack Obama called Mandela an “extraordinary man” whose journey from prisoner to president had inspired the world, as well as him personally.
“He achieved more than can be expected of any man – and today he’s gone home,” said President Obama.
“We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.”
“He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.”
The Queen said she was “deeply saddened” by Nelson Mandela’s death, saying he “worked tirelessly for the good of his country, and his legacy is the peaceful South Africa we see today”.
The former president’s body has been taken to a military hospital in Pretoria. It is thought his body will lie in state for three days before a funeral is held next Saturday in Qunu, the village in Eastern Cape where he was born.