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Hillary Clinton: Nelson Mandela “a giant among us”

A day after former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded the late leader and anti-apartheid crusader as a “giant among us - someone who, by the power of his example, demonstrated unequivocally how each can choose how we will respond to those injustices, and grievances, those sorrows and tragedies that afflict all of human kind.”

Clinton marveled at Mandela’s capacity for introspection and personal transformation. “I was always struck by the extraordinary depth of his self-knowledge, of his awareness about how hard it is to live a life of integrity, of service,” she said. “But to combine within himself the contradictions he lived with – a lawyer and a freedom fighter, a prisoner and a leader, a man of anger and of forgiveness.”

In this file photo, former South African President, Nelson Mandela (R) sits beside then-US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) during a meeting in Johannesburg on August 7, 2009. DENIS FARRELL/AFP/Getty Images
“I only hope that as we both mourn and celebrate the passing of this universally recognized and beloved figure that we remember that he became that as a result of an enormous amount of hard work on himself,” she said.

Clinton accompanied her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, to Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 as he took office after the end of apartheid, becoming South Africa’s first black president. On Friday, she recalled the magnanimity Mandela displayed on that day by thanking even those who played a part in his decades-long imprisonment.

“And as he looked out at the large crowd gathered, filled with dignitaries everywhere, including people who had been part of the struggle itself against apartheid and who had supported that struggle,” she recalled, ”he made the point of thanking his jailers and pointing out that, of all the distinguished VIPs who were there, he was most grateful that these men, with whom he had exchanged words of recognition, of acknowledgement of the other's humanity over the course of that long imprisonment, could be there as well.”

Clinton’s remarks on Mandela came as she accepted an award from the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, an organization started by late congressman and holocaust survivor Tom Lantos.

In her speech, she dwelt on the similarities between Lantos and Mandela, describing both as “men who had seen the worst of what humanity had to offer.”

“They had every reason to come out – if not embittered, cynical – believing that, for the rest of their lives, the only thing that would matter would be acquiring power,” she said. “What always struck me about Nelson Mandela and Tom Lantos was the joy, the curiosity, the enthusiasm for life that they brought with them out of the depths of such suffering.”