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President Barack Hussain Obama described Mr Mandela as the 'last great liberator of the 20th
century' and compared him to Ghandi and Martin Luther King in a powerful address to the crowds.
Mr Obama opened his speech by thanking Mandela's family, then continued: 'To the people of South Africa - people of every race and walk of life - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.
'Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.
'Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don't.'
Referring to the anti-apartheid icon's friendship with his own prison warders, the President said: 'It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the gaoler as well.'
He also spoke out against the dictators from countries such as Zimbabwe and China who pay lip service to Mandela's legacy while repressing their own people, saying: 'There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
'There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.'
To the people of South Africa - people of every race and walk of life - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph.
Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe - Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.
He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and husband, a father and a friend.
Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.
Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa - 'Ubuntu' - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.
It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the gaoler as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world - you can make his life’s work your own.
Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better.
But I believe it should also be a period of self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It's a question I ask myself as a man and as a President. We can't allow our progress to cloud the fact that our struggle is not done
''We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again but let me say to young people in South Africa and around the world, you too can make his life work your own.
The U.S. President added: 'After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength - for his largeness of spirit - somewhere inside ourselves.
'And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach - think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell: It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.'
President Obama along with First Lady Michelle led an American delegation of former presidents and their families
Barack Obama paid an emotional tribute to his personal hero Mandela, calling the South African leader a 'giant of history'.
He said: 'He changed views but he also changed hearts. For the people of South Africa, for the people he inspired around the globe, his passing is rightly a time of mourning and a time to celebrate his life.