COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/AP) South Africa's first black president spent nearly a third of his life as a prisoner of apartheid, yet he sought to win over its defeated guardians in a relatively peaceful transition of power that inspired the world.
As head of state, the former boxer, lawyer and inmate lunched with the prosecutor who argued successfully for his incarceration. He sang the apartheid-era Afrikaans anthem at his inauguration and traveled hundreds of miles to have tea with the widow of the prime minister in power at the time he was sent to prison.
It was this generosity of spirit that made Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, a global symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation in a world often jarred by conflict and division.
"There are no words to describe the impact Nelson Mandela had not just on his country but on the world," Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement. "May we all continue to learn from his courage, his grace, and his incomparable strength."
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the world has lost a hero.
"The cause of justice and equality has lost one of its greatest champion's tonight and I have lost one of my personal heroes," Benjamin said in a statement.
"I was a junior at the University of South Carolina campaigning for student body president when we learned that Nelson Mandela had finally been released and I remember how the gravity and pure joy of that moment washed over all of us," Benjamin said. "Years later I had the rare opportunity to visit his home in Soweto and the 8' x 7' concrete cell on Robbin Island where he was imprisoned for decades to try and gain a greater understanding of the magnitude of his personal sacrifice and struggle."
Benjamin added " His example of unflinching courage and determination lives on and will continue to inspire us all to stand tall in the face of adversity and to be bigger and better than we possible."
Congressman Tom Rice stated on his Facebook page: "Today, we mourn the loss of one of our generation's greatest leaders. Nelson Mandela was fearless leader who led his country out of apartheid and into a peaceful democracy. He has been an inspiration to millions and truly made a difference in this World. My prayers go out to the Mandela family and the people of South Africa."