Japan offers tributes to human rights giant

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Japan and its leaders on Friday mourned the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, calling the country’s first black president a “great leader” and a man “filled with warmness.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, “fought (with) a strong will to eliminate apartheid and achieved a great deal by putting national reconciliation at the center of his nation-building.”

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida offered his condolences to Mandela’s family as well as the government and people of South Africa.

“I express from my heart respect for the achievements of the former South African president and hope that the government and people of South Africa will overcome their grief and proceed to develop their country,” he said.

Mandela visited Japan three times, the first time in 1990 when he was deputy president of the African National Congress to seek support for the antiapartheid movement.

In the following year, Mandela was invited to an international conference on the news media in Kyoto, where he delivered the keynote speech on media freedom.

After the apartheid system was abolished and Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, he visited Japan in 1995 as a state guest. During the five-day official visit, he expressed appreciation for Japan’s support during South Africa’s struggle to end racial segregation and achieve democracy.

Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999.

In addition to the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, he received numerous awards and honors. One was an honorary doctorate from Tokyo’s Waseda University in 1995.

Takayasu Okushima, president of the university at the time, was excited in recalling the moment he met the South African leader.

“In one word, Mr. Mandela was warm. He was filled with warmness and he was like ‘uncle’ Mandela. He didn’t seem like a person who achieved a great revolution at all,” Okushima said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Waseda decided to present the honor of Doctor of Law to Mandela for his “contribution to humankind,” which is stipulated in the university’s charter, Okushima said.

“It was huge honor for the university to be given a chance to honor him. We are very proud of and grateful for the opportunity,” said Okushima, who added that he considers Mandela one of the two great heroes of victorious nonviolent liberation, along with India’s Mahatma Gandhi.

Okushima, who now heads the Scout Association of Japan, said Mandela presented the university with a signed copy of his autobiography, which is kept as a “treasure” in the Waseda library.

The hall where Mandela gave a speech was packed with about 1,500 students, whom Okushima described as “very lucky” as it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for them to meet such a great person. The students were inspired by him, Okushima said.

“We are deeply sorry for his passing away and offer our condolences,” he said.

Officials from organizations related to South Africa also offered condolences over the passing of the anti-apartheid activist who spent 27 years in prison.

“We join the world in mourning the passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela and also in paying tribute to his outstanding achievements as a most gracious leader,” Clinton Gass, chairman of the South African Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said in a statement.

“Our condolences go out to his family, to the nation of South Africa, and to the large part of humanity that has been touched by the profound influences of this exceptional human being. Madiba, may you rest in peace,” he said, using Mandela’s Xhosa clan name.

The government is considering sending Abe or some of his ministers to Mandela’s funeral.

Information from Kyodo added

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