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Obama: World Lost A Profoundly Good Man In Nelson Mandela's Death


Tributes are pouring in from around the globe on news that Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa out of apartheid, has died. He was 95 and had been ill for a long time. His death marks the passing of an era and President Obama spoke a short time after hearing the news. President Obama held Mandela up as an inspiration to his own leadership.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set, to make decisions guided not by hate but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

BLOCK: And NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro joins me now. Ari, what else did the president have to say about Nelson Mandela and his influence?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: He described the former South African leader as one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings we could share time with on this earth. That was in the start of his remarks. And towards the end of his remarks, the president drew on words from Martin Luther King, saying, a man - describing Mandela as a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

This is a leader who had, certainly, a profound impact on the world but also a profound impact on Barack Obama as a man. Symbolically, you have these two men who are both the first black leaders of countries that had a history of deep racial tensions. And we know that President Obama saw echoes of Mandela's legacy in his own story.

BLOCK: President Obama was in South Africa this summer. He did not meet with Nelson Mandela but he did with the family.

SHAPIRO: He did meet with the family. At that point, Nelson Mandela was sick in the hospital. I remember on this trip, there was a sort of will they have this meeting in person or won't they. President Obama never did have the opportunity as president to meet with Nelson Mandela. But in 2005, when Obama was a senator, they did meet in person.

It was a crucial moment in Obama's life, such that he keeps a photograph of that meeting with him on his - in the Oval Office. And although they didn't meet in person on his trip to Africa, in addition to meeting with the family, the president and his family also visited the prison cell in Robben Island where Mandela spent so many years.

BLOCK: Ari, the president did appear to get emotional today as he talked about Nelson Mandela and his impact, not just on his life, but on the world.

SHAPIRO: Right. It's hard to overstate the impact of Mandela on Obama, personally. The president said, as he has in previous occasions, that his first political experience was as a college student working against apartheid. And that moment, he says, taught him the power of the individual. It's something that when he was in Africa he talked about in the context of the impact that one person can have, one person who might have been listening to him speak in Africa.

But clearly, it also taught him the lesson that he, as one person, could have an impact on the world around him. He said in those days, he was reading Mandela's writing, he never expected that Mandela might even leave prison, let alone, at one point, lead a South Africa that no longer had apartheid.

BLOCK: Ari, would we expect President Obama to go to Nelson Mandela's funeral, do we know?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. We expect that in a little over a week, world leaders will give tributes. Although this hasn't been formally announced, those were the plans that were in place previously, and that's what we're expecting, pending any news to the contrary.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thanks.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk with you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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