US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, paid tribute on Tuesday to former South African president Nelson Mandela ahead of his 94th birthday, as having “abiding humility” and “unbreakable will.”
“On behalf of the people of the United States, we would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 94th birthday and the fourth annual Nelson Mandela International Day,” the Obamas said in a statement honoring the anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela’s “extraordinary life and steadfast commitment to the principles of democracy and reconciliation continues to be a beacon for people of all backgrounds who strive for dignity, justice and freedom,” they said, describing his personal story as “one of unbreakable will, unwavering integrity and abiding humility.”
The Obamas said their family “has been inspired by Madiba’s example and has deeply appreciated the time we have spent with him, and his wisdom, grace and generosity of spirit.”
“By any measure, Nelson Mandela has changed the arc of history, transforming his country, continent and the world,” the statement read.
The US first lady met with Mandela on June 11 last year on a visit to South Africa with her daughters.
Obama’s Democratic predecessor, former US president Bill Clinton, meanwhile, hailed his close ties with Nelson Mandela before visiting Mandela’s home in his childhood village.
Clinton spent two hours inside Mandela’s family compound in Qunu, the picturesque southeastern village where the South African leader grew up.
Media were barred from entering the area and Clinton left without speaking.
Before the visit, Clinton opened a library at a primary school together with Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and his daughter Zindzi ahead of the statesman’s birthday yesterday.
“We worked together as presidents, and even after we left office we continued working together to improve education of the children worldwide in order for them to share the future,” Clinton said.
Mandela, who was president from 1994 to 1999, spent 27 years in the apartheid regime’s jails. He retired from political life in 2004.