World mourns Mandela, struggles to find the words

AP Photo/Sang Tan
AP Photo/Sang Tan

For most of the world, his name is synonymous with courage and perseverance.

Leaders and citizens, athletes and artists remembered Nelson Mandela on Friday - though many struggled to find words big enough to describe the man who changed the face of South Africa and inspired a continent and a world: a colossus, a father figure, a giant baobab tree providing shade for an entire nation.

Flags were lowered to half-staff in countries around the globe, some African countries declared days of mourning, children in South Africa ran through the streets carrying Mandela's image, mourners in London waited in the cold to sign a condolence book, and the New York Stock Exchange held a minute of silence before the opening bell.

African leaders gathering in Paris for a summit about bringing peace and security to the troubled continent opened their conference with a moment of silence.

While Mandela inspired and challenged people everywhere to stand up for others, he had a special legacy for Africa. But his message there was often also an uncomfortable one for leaders who clung to power and amassed riches while their populations suffered.

In Gambia, for instance, intellectuals and public servants quietly wondered if the death of the South African icon would serve as a wakeup call to President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled his West African nation with an iron fist, accused of imprisoning, torturing and killing his opponents, including journalists.

Jammeh has yet to comment on Mandela's death.