Mandela family spokesman: ‘He will always be with us’

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) — A spokesman for relatives of Nelson Mandela extended thanks Saturday for the outpouring of support they have received since his death Thursday at age 95 and vowed that they would seek to uphold his legacy.

“The pillar of the family is gone,” Gen. Themba Matanzima told reporters here. “But in our hearts and souls, he will always be with us.”

Matanzima said the family of the man who became South Africa’s first black president after enduing 27 years in prison for his role in fighting apartheid would “be guided by the values he lived for and was prepared to die for.”

Chief among the lessons Mandela imparted was that “a life lived for others is a life well lived,” the family spokesman said.

“Though he attained the status of a global icon, he was remarkable for his humility in the family,” Matanzima said. “Above all, he believed very strongly in the value and power of education as an instrument to empower children against poverty and helplessness.”

Matanzima expressed gratitude to the people of South Africa for their support during Mandela’s long bouts with illness, to his medical team and to South Africa President Jacob Zuma.

“Finally, as a family, we are humbled by the message of condolence and support we continue to receive from governments and people of the world.”

Using the clan name for the world leader, Matanzima said, “Clearly, this once more underlines the simple truth that Madiba was not just a citizen of South Africa and the broader African continent, but a global citizen.”

Though the past two days have not been easy for Mandela’s family, and the coming days, too, will be difficult, “with the support we are receiving from here and beyond, in due time, all will be well for the family,” he said.

Tributes planned

A state funeral will be held December 15 in Mandela’s ancestral hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province.

Before the funeral, various events to honor him are planned in major cities.

Sunday will be a national day of prayer and reflection, and people will gather in places of worship to pray and meditate, Zuma said.

The official memorial service will be Tuesday in First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.

And his body will lie in state at the seat of government in Pretoria from Wednesday through next Friday.

Zuma announced the death late Thursday in a nationally televised address.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son; our people have lost a father,” he said. “Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.”

In recent years, Mandela had battled health issues that included multiple hospitalizations for treatment of a recurring lung infection.

Man of complexities

Mandela helped South Africa break the practice of racial segregation and do away with white minority rule.

Imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against state-sanctioned racial segregation, he was freed in 1990 and quickly set about working to unite the nation through forgiveness and reconciliation.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela said.

His rejection of vengeance led him to assume roles that led from freedom fighter to prisoner to a world symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.

And, four years after he left prison, he became president, cementing his place in the consciousness of the nation and the world.

Zuma has ordered flags around South Africa to be flown at half-staff until the funeral.

The U.S. government and Buckingham Palace also lowered their flags.

“Nelson Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man,” U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday. “We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages.”

By Arwa Damon and Tom Watkins

CNN’s Arwa Damon reported from South Africa, and Faith Karimi and Tom Watkins reported and wrote from Atlanta.

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