President Obama pays tribute to Nelson Mandela

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, about the death of Nelson Mandela. Mr Obama says the world has lost an influential, courageous and 'profoundly good' man with the
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, about the death of Nelson Mandela. Mr Obama says the world has lost an influential, courageous and 'profoundly good' man with the death of anti-apartheid icon Mandela. -- PHOTO: AP

US President Barack Obama became one of the first foreign leaders to pay tribute to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela with a speech delivered less than an hour after news broke of the passing of the human rights icon.

"We've 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," said the US President in a televised address.

"His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better," added Mr Obama.

Nelson Mandela died at his Johannesburg home on Thursday night local time, said South African president Jacob Zuma, without giving details on the cause of death. Mr Mandela was 95 and had struggled with ill health in recent years.

An sombre Mr Obama also said that Mr Mandela was a constant inspiration to him.

"My very first political action was a protest against apartheid... I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they are guided by their hopes and not their fears."

"May God bless his memory and keep him in peace", he said as he concluded his speech.

Many former US presidents also paid tribute to Mr Mandela.

Former president George H.W. Bush said "He was a man of tremendous moral courage who changed the course of history in his country."

Mr Bill Clinton, in turn said; “Nelson Mandela taught us so much about so many things. Perhaps the greatest lesson, especially for young people, is that, while bad things do happen to good people, we still have the freedom and responsibility to decide how to respond to injustice, cruelty and violence and how they will affect our spirits, hearts and minds."