Muscat: Major General Chris Pepani, the South Africa ambassador to Oman, said that when he first met Nelson Mandela, and shook hands with him, he did not want to wash his hands lest the magic vanishes off his skin. For him, shaking his hands with such a great man, and even breathing the same air as him, was a true privilege.
Speaking to journalists at the South African Embassy yesterday, Pepani expressed his personal admiration for Mandela, his country's first democratically elected president, and for what the Nobel laureate meant to the world.
"He became a symbol of hope for billions of people around the world in the hope that there could be a better life. His legacy will be a monument, forever. Wherever he is, may his soul rest in peace. He will be getting a standing ovation for his role here on earth," Pepani said.
Though Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his fight against the apartheid regime, was 95 years old and in poor health, Pepani said the news of his death still came as a shock and it was difficult to accept such a big loss. Yet, in moving on, the ambassador said he and many others will try to follow their leader's example.
"We should follow his footsteps and the values he lived for in terms of justice and equality. His lessons and teachings will remain engraved in our hearts and minds," he noted.
Not only was Mandela a key figure in uniting South Africa, but he also helped negotiate peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. He also fought against poverty, Aids, and for education.
Pepani said the show of international support for South Africa following Mandela's death has been tremendous. Over 60 heads of state as well as numerous former presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries will be attending the funeral today, including a delegation from Oman.
"We want to thank the international community for the outpouring of condolences. It is with a heavy heart that we have to come to terms with the reality that he has departed from this world," Pepani said.
"Here in Muscat, people can continue to visit the embassy between 10:30am-12:30pm and 2pm-4pm until December 12 to sign the book of condolences and leave flowers and cards outside the embassy walls. There will also be a memorial tomorrow from 11am-1 pm at the InterContinental Hotel," Pepani said.