Folks gather outside South African Embassy in DC for Nelson Mandela

5:57 PM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- People gathered outside the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. to mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela. 

The Embassy plans to hold local events over the next few days to honor the life of Nelson Mandela. 

A prayer vigil will be held by the statue outside the South African Embassy from 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. every night until next Tuesday. There was also be a service at the Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. 

"I don't think there's anybody else like him," said a tearful Jan Smart staring at a statue of Nelson Mandela outside the South African Embassy in D.C.

Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95 on Thursday after years of health issues.

"Intellectually, we tried to prepare ourselves, but emotionally it's going to take time to get over it," said Johnny Moloto, the Deputy Ambassador of South Africa to the United States.

The statue of Mandela on Massachusetts Avenue in NW was unveiled in September. It is a replica of a statue outside the South African prison where Mandela spent 27 years of his life as a political prisoner for fighting against apartheid. 

Dozens of people flocked to the D.C. version of the statue, laying flowers, lighting candles and fighting back tears. 

While Mandela is gone, his stories of sacrifice and compassion live.

"My dad told me that he invited his prosecutor to lunch as soon as he got out of jail. just a story of his supreme kindness," recalled Ai Anderson, a teenager who visited the statue with his father and younger brother.

Mandela's ability to forgive has always stuck with with Smart.

"The fact that he sat down with people from the opposite side of the fence who imprisoned him and tortured him and killed his people and we can't even talk across the aisle here, that's pretty sad, isn't it?" she said.

Smart recalled working at the New Zealand Embassy, just across the street from the South African Embassy where anti-apartheid protests broke out during the 1980s. 

"I saw how much that meant to Americans and how much he inspired people by sticking to his principles," said Smart.

But in South Africa, he was even more than a principled man.

"A grandfather, a father, a conscious of a nation," described Moloto.

He seemed to be something to everyone.

"To me, he somebody who created hope for us," said Peter Boyce as he pointed proudly towards Mandela's statue Thursday night.

"For me, it's freedom. For me, it's a sense of, my boys can do a lot more things that they may not have had the opportunity to do," said Dijon Anderson.

To Rick Judge, a student at American University, Mandela meant "Freedom, justice, equality. I think he espoused those and even though it was in South Africa, I think those ideals ring true everywhere," said Judge.

And it seems that is where Mandela will be remembered: everywhere.

The current President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma said, "His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude."

On the embassy Facebook page, people are invited to sign a book of condolence honoring the memory of Nelson Mandela. 

The book will be located at the South African Embassy, 3051 Massachusetts Ave NW, and will be open daily for signing from Friday, December 6, through Tuesday, December 10, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

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