Mandela's struggle was personal inspiration, Obama says

Thu Dec 5, 2013 9:37pm EST
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By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - America's first black president, Barack Obama, hailed Nelson Mandela on Thursday as a source of personal inspiration whose struggle against racism in South Africa jump-started his own involvement in politics.

Speaking in the White House press room shortly after the announcement of Mandela's death, a somber-looking Obama said the 95-year-old former South African president left a legacy of freedom and peace.

"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid," Obama said.

"Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him," he said.

Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, has long referred to Mandela as an inspiration.

A picture of the two men together hangs in the family residence at the White House, next to a photograph of Mandela with first lady Michelle Obama and the two Obama daughters, taken when they went to South Africa 2-1/2 years ago.

The president said he read Mandela's writings as a young man. The day Mandela was released from prison gave Obama "a sense of what human beings can do when they're guided by their hopes and not by their fears," he said.

The Obamas went to Cape Town and Johannesburg during an Africa tour in June but did not visit the ailing leader, who was in the hospital at the time. They toured the Robben Island prison where Mandela had been held and stood in his cell. The president and the first lady also met with Mandela's family.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks on the passing of former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandela at the age of 95, at the White House in Washington, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Theiler