Hollande pays ’emotional’ visit to Mandela home

French President François Hollande paid an emotional visit on Tuesday to Nelson Mandela's former home in Soweto, where the iconic former South African president lived before being imprisoned for 27 years.

Hollande pays 'emotional' visit to Mandela home
French President François Hollande paid an emotional visit on October 15th to Nelson Mandela's former home in Soweto. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

"Coming to this house you get the feeling of a fighter, a combatant, a militant who lived here among his own," said Hollande after spending time at the matchbox brick building, which is now a national monument.

Accompanied by South African President Jacob Zuma, Hollande spent the morning in the formerly blacks-only area southwest of Johannesburg, which was a hotbed for resistance against the white supremacist apartheid regime.

They also visited a memorial to Hector Pieterson, a 13-year-old schoolboy shot dead by police in 1976 when school children protested being taught in Afrikaans, the language of Dutch descendants.

Dozens were killed by police during the protest.

"It is very moving to come to Soweto, where hardly 40 years ago children died defending their freedom, their dignity," said Hollande on the second day of a state visit to South Africa.

"All this isn't so long ago," he said, adding that "the battle for human dignity, for equality, for respect and tolerance… these battles live on even long after the heroes who waged them."

SEE ALSO: A French anti-apartheid campaigner tells The Local about the day she met Mandela

Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of Mandela being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with then-president FW de Klerk for negotiating an end to apartheid.

Mandela went on to become the country's first black president after all-race elections in 1994.

The ailing 95-year-old receives few visitors these days besides close relatives. Discharged from hospital after a three-month stint, the critically ill former statesman is being treated at his Johannesburg home.

Hollande was due to meet Mandela's wife Graca Machel later in the day.

The small single-storey house where Mandela lived from 1946 to 1965 in Soweto was the centre of his political activity prior to his arrest.

After his imprisonment, his then wife Winnie stayed behind, becoming a strong anti-apartheid beacon in her own right.

The couple divorced in 1992.

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France pays homage to ‘conquerer’ Mandela

Updated: French leaders on Friday paid tribute to South Africa's anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday. Anti-racism groups also have called for impromptu congregation and all flags in France will fly at half-mast in tribute, the PM announced.

France pays homage to 'conquerer' Mandela
Woman walks next to a replica of Nelson Mandela's prison cell, on the eve of the opening of 'Nelson Mandela, from prisoner to President' exhibition in Paris earlier this year. Photo: AFP

All French flags will fly at half-mast in tribute to Nelson Mandela, as the country's leaders paid homage to the anti-apartheid icon. Anti-racism groups in Paris have also called for people to gather outside the South African embassy on Friday evening to pay their respects to Mandela.

In a statement President François Hollande, who will travel to South Africa to attend Mandela's funeral in his second visit to the country, described Mandela as a "magnificent conqueror" saying he was a "tireless fighter against apartheid," which he "defeated by his courage, persistence and perseverance." 

"Nelson Mandela’s message will not disappear, it will continue to inspire freedom fighters and give confidence to people in defense of just causes and universal rights. He showed that the human will can not only break the chains of captivity but also liberate its energies to successfully build a common destiny."

IN PICTURES: Nelson Mandela and the French connection

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault praised the late anti-apartheid leader as an "extraordinary man".

"All humanity is in mourning," Ayrault told reporters in Beijing, on the second day of a visit to China.

"France joins in this mourning. She stands alongside the South Africans who are crying today for this great man."

Mandela became a symbol for "all of humanity" added Ayrault. "He leaves us a legacy. We are all responsible for it."

VIDEO: See how Mandela was greeted on his first trip to France in 1990.

In a statement released earlier, the French head of government said of Mandela: "All his life he fought with courage for justice and against the evil of apartheid.

"It is with respect and humility that I bow to the memory of this extraordinary man, who will long be an inspiration to all of humanity," he said.

The Nobel laureate "governed with wisdom and probity, for togetherness and reconciliation" and had "guided his people towards freedom and dignity", he added.

"His fight against racism and for liberty went beyond borders of his own country and had a universal impact."

Shortly after Mandela's death was announced French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius paid his own respects to the "a charismatic giant" who had led South Africa from apartheid to democracy.

"With Nelson Mandela, the father of South Africa has died, the driving force for freedom and for reconciliation," Fabius said in a statement.

Gathering at the South African Embassy in Paris

Anti-racism group SOS-Racisme has called for people to gather outside the South African embassy at the Quai d'Orsay at 6pm on Friday to pay their respects. 

"SOS Racisme will lay a wreath and has called to gather in front of the embassy of South Africa Friday at 18:00," the organisation said  in a statement.
"Mandela has rejoined the great figures of the universal struggle for equality," said the president of the association, Cindy Leoni.
Another anti-racism group CRAN has also called for people to gather on Saturday, at 1pm at Saint-Bernardchurch in the capital.
"South Africa's Nelson Mandela has taught us some memorable lessons," said Patrick Lozès, the former president of Cran. "This is a huge loss," he added before inviting France to "learn from these lessons and in particular from the message of Nelson Mandela in general."
Stay with us for more reaction to Mandela's death from France.