(WASHINGTON) — Congressional leaders from both parties honored the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela Thursday at the Capitol on his 95th birthday.
“At times it can almost feel like we are talking about an old friend,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “The reason for that, I think, is scarcely a day goes by without us pointing to Mandela as an example.”
Mandela is world-famous for his leading role as an international anti-apartheid revolutionary who spent 27 years in jail and then went on to become the first democratically elected president of racially divided South Africa.
Since early June, Madiba, as he is affectionately known among South Africans, has been in critical condition in a hospital in South Africa.
“Even as he lies in a Pretoria hospital in critical condition, and even as we must face the inevitable at some time, we celebrate Mandela’s 95 years of life,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said.
Calling him the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of South Africa, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Boehner and other leading lawmakers in extolling the virtues of Mandela’s work to remove the institutionalized racism that plagued the African nation.
“Rare is the leader who rises to such prominence that his name becomes globally recognized as s synonym for causes greater than himself.” McConnell, R-Ky., said. “Rarer still is the leader who can directly challenge an established order, upend nearly every convention of a society, and still find a way to establish himself as a unifying figure.”
Lawmakers were joined by members of the Free South Africa Movement and the U.S. ambassador to South Africa.
Standing before the mold of the Statue of Freedom in the aptly named Emancipation Hall, lawmakers took turns reading quotes from Mandela’s written works — from his time as prisoner to Nobel Peace Prize winner to president — that told the story of his fight for freedom and emancipation from a racist apartheid government.
“Nelson Mandela never gave up hope. He never lost faith in the strength of the human spirit,” Pelosi, D-Calif., added. “Happy Birthday, Madiba.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Eric Bradner, Dana Bash and MJ Lee, CNN
Theodore Schleifer, CNN