Johannesburg - Former president Nelson Mandela was a larger than life figure who represented the best values of South African people, suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Friday.
“The big tree under whose shade we have hidden for 67 years of service to human kind has fallen,” he said in a statement.
“For many months now, we had been preparing for this unavoidable passing of the colossus. Yet, now that this moment has arrived, we find out that we are not ready to let go of a man who was larger than life.”
Vavi said Mandela never once “sought to remind anyone about what an important icon he was”.
“Always down to earth and self-effacing, and respecting both his friends and those he had fundamental differences with, Mandela made everyone who came across him feel at ease, despite his overwhelming stature.”
Mandela died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Thursday night. He was 95-years-old.
“Madiba was a man of the people. Everywhere he went Ä in his native country South Africa and the whole democratic world Ä he drew magnitudes of crowds ready to share from his fountain of love and warmth,” he said.
“He was a champion of reconciliation and peace, who single-handedly saved our country from an imminent civil war.”
Vavi said Mandela at times went against prevailing sentiment on the ground to advocate for peace.
“At the time when many of us had only one thing in mind, to avenge the brutal killing of our hero Chris Hani, the leader of the SACP 1/8SA Communist Party 3/8, he emerged as an indisputable leader even before the elections,” he said.
“Since that day, Madiba was celebrated as a leader and a father of our land... Never will the world see a person so universally loved across the globe as Madiba.”
Vavi is on special leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing relating to an affair with a junior employee of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu).
In July, the employee accused him of rape. He said they had an affair. The woman subsequently withdrew a sexual harassment complaint against him.
Following his suspension, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA lodged an application in the High Court in Johannesburg, challenging Cosatu's decision to suspend Vavi.