He was a beacon of hope whose influence will shine on

NELSON Mandela was the glowing beacon of hope, shining across South Africa and the world, whose 27 years in jail left him without a trace of bitterness or hatred against those who practised the evil of apartheid.

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From his prison cell the man who was to become president of his beloved South Africa did more than any person alive to end this scourge and to bring about black majority rule in his country.

It was Mandela, even through his long and lonely incarceration, whose sheer, unwavering resolve to end the iniquities in South Africa assuaged the despair of millions of blacks who existed under the tyranny of apartheid.

Never did he compromise his inflexible principles, which provided a source of great strength to fellow prisoners.

More than once he rejected offers of freedom with strings attached. Only a free man can negotiate, he said. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.

He was finally released by President FW de Klerk on Sunday, February 11 1990, sometime after the then president had lifted the ban on the African National Congress.

It was soon after his release that Mr Mandela and his delegation formally agreed to the end of the armed struggle.

Four years later, on May 10 1994, he was inaugurated as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, a post he held until June 1999, when he formally retired from public life.

Even then, he spent much of his time travelling the world, meeting foreign statesmen and being hailed, wherever he went, as a remarkable man who never demonstrated even a trace of rancour or vindictiveness towards those who maintained the tyrannical regime and who threw him into prison.

His appeals for peace and harmony, not simply in the formerly racially divided state of South Africa, but throughout the world, including, and especially, the Middle East, were often more effective than those issued even from the White House.

He was revered worldwide as a man of peace and forgiveness, a man who did not know the meaning of the word "malice".

In 2008, he made a rare visit to the UK to attend a concert marking his 90th birthday.

The following year, the United Nations declared July 18 Mandela Day, in recognition of his birthday.

But a family bereavement and increased fragility meant that he maintained a low profile at football's World Cup 2010 in South Africa, only briefly appearing at the finale.

It was an event, like so many other rights his country now enjoys, that the former president had lobbied for on behalf of his beloved South Africa.

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