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Clinton, Capitol Hill Mourn Death of Nelson Mandela

Clinton, center, mourned Mandela while accepting an award for human rights work. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Clinton, center, mourned Mandela while accepting an award for human rights work. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congress may be out as the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, but Capitol Hill still found ways to grieve the former South African president Friday.

Beyond the bevy of press releases and the flags at half-staff, former Secretary of State — and rumored 2016 presidential hopeful — Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize on Friday for her contributions to women’s rights and global access to the Internet. But while the ceremony celebrated Clinton’s achievements and those of former member and human rights advocate Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the ceremony and Clinton’s speech became an extended opportunity to issue condolences and remembrances of one of the world’s most iconic civil rights leaders.

“We meet on the day after the loss of a giant among us,” Clinton told the crowd gathered in the ornate Canon Caucus Room. “Someone who had a power of his example demonstrated unequivocally how each of us can choose how we will respond to those injustices and grievances, those sorrows and tragedies, that afflict all of human kind.”

“Nelson Mandela,” Clinton continued, “will be remembered for many things. He will be certainly remembered for the way he led. His dignity. His extraordinary understanding not just of how to bring democracy and freedom to his beloved South Africa, but how important it was that he first brought freedom to himself.”

Clinton recounted Mandela’s presidential inauguration in May 1994 in South Africa, which she attended as first lady. According to Clinton, Mandela said during a luncheon that “of all the distinguished VIPs” in attendance that day, he was most grateful that the guards during his 27-year imprisonment were there. That, according to Clinton, was Nelson Mandela.

Also in attendance for the Lantos Human Rights Prize presentation was another former secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Albright had her own sentiments on Mandela’s passing.

“President Mandela was an activist, a prisoner of conscience, a political leader, a venerated statesmen, and he was above all a teacher,” Albright said. “And he taught us that the power of forgiveness is greater than the power of hate. And the differences of race and nationality matter less than our shared humanity.”

Mandela died Thursday at 8:50 p.m., South African time, at the age of 95. Throughout the rest of the day, members of Congress issued press releases regarding his death.

Here are the full statements from the top two Republicans and Democrats in the House:

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio:

“Nelson Mandela was an unrelenting voice for democracy and his ‘long walk to freedom’ showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity. His perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations. Mandela led his countrymen through times of epic change with a quiet moral authority that directed his own path from prisoner to president. He passes this world as a champion of peace and racial harmony. I send condolences to the Mandela family and to the people of South Africa.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.:

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of President Nelson Mandela. The world has lost an exceptional leader who made the world a better place by illuminating in his own nation the shining light of freedom. From prisoner to president, Mr. Mandela demonstrated a lifelong commitment to justice and human rights, and his legacy should serve as an example for all of us. My prayers are with Mr. Mandela’s family and the people of South Africa.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

“With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost a leader who advanced the cause of equality and human rights, who overcame a history of oppression in South Africa to expand the reach of freedom worldwide. He led the campaign to defeat apartheid through non-violence, peace, and dialogue. He never allowed resentment to drive him away from the path of reconciliation. He emerged from prison to set free an entire nation; he shed the bonds of slave labor to reshape the fate of his people.”

“Nelson Mandela once said that ‘courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ His life is the affirmation of this statement: a story of courage, a triumph over fear, a whole-hearted faith in the power, promise, and possibility of the human spirit. He inspired the world with his strength and perseverance, with his message of hope and his embrace of freedom. He left us a legacy of love and partnership.”

“May the life of Nelson Mandela long stand as the ultimate tribute to the triumph of hope. May his story long remind us to always look forward with optimism to the future. May it be a comfort to his family, to his friends and loved ones, to the people of South Africa that so many mourn the loss of this extraordinary man and incredible leader at this sad time.”

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.:

“Throughout his life, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela met the purveyors of injustice, intolerance, and racism with an unyielding determination to forge a better and fairer future for his beloved nation. From joining the anti-apartheid movement, the African National Congress, and serving 27 years behind the bars of Robben Island as a political prisoner to his groundbreaking tenure in office and later advocacy on behalf of victims of HIV/AIDS, President Mandela stood ever firm for the principles of justice, democracy, equal rights, and peaceful co-existence. Embracing a strategy of non-violent mass resistance, he helped ushered South Africa out from the shadows of apartheid into a new day of freedom, democracy, and hope.”

“He will be missed not only by the people of South Africa, with whom I join in mourning their beloved Madiba, but by Americans of every color and faith, including the many who worked tirelessly from afar to call attention to the injustice and brutality of apartheid, to protest his unjust imprisonment, and to boycott the evil system he struggled to overturn. President Mandela’s legacy will be not only one of toppling apartheid but ensuring that it was replaced not by bitterness and division but by reconciliation and a shared commitment to the rights of all South Africans. Our world will surely be a lesser one without President Mandela walking among us, but our future has been made ever greater by the legacy he leaves indelibly printed in our hearts.”

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