Nelson Mandela "achieved more than could be expected of any man," President Barack Obama said Thursday. "He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."
Mandela died Thursday at age 95. He spent nearly three decades in prison for fighting South Africa's racist apartheid policies, and he became the country's first black president.
"Today he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth," said Obama, the first black U.S. president.
Obama has long referred to Mandela as a personal inspiration.
"Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him," he said.
"His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better," Obama told a group of reporters in the White House.
"A free South Africa at peace with itself — that's an example to the world, and that's Madiba's legacy to the nation he loved," he said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
"I would study his words and his writings," Obama said. "The day he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they are guided by their hopes and not by their fears."
"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," the president said, noting that one of his first political acts was a protest against apartheid.
Obama is expected to go to South Africa for Mandela's funeral. The president went to Johannesburg earlier this year but did not visit the ailing leader, who was in the hospital at the time.
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," Obama said. "So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice."
"May God bless his memory and keep him in peace," the president said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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