S'pore leaders pay tribute to 'historic leader and eminent statesman'

S'pore leaders pay tribute to 'historic leader and eminent statesman'
March 5, 1997: National Parks Board CEO Tan Wee Kiat (left) placing a plaque to mark the Vandaenopsis Nelson Mandela orchid, a hybrid named after Mr Mandela (right), while Board chairman Tan Keong Choon (centre) applauds.

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and top Singapore leaders last Friday paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, praising him as a historic leader and eminent statesman who inspired millions around the world with his courage and wisdom. Mr Mandela, who died in his Johannesburg home last Friday after a long battle with a lung infection, was also credited with raising relations with Singapore to a high point with his state visit in March 1997.

"Singapore stands with South Africa in mourning Mr Mandela's passing. Our thoughts are with Mr Mandela's family and the people of South Africa during this period," PM Lee said in a condolence letter to South African President Jacob Zuma.

"His humanity, courage and lifelong fight for freedom and equality inspired millions around the world. His demise is a great loss to South Africa and mankind."

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, in a separate letter to Mr Zuma, said Mr Mandela was a "true freedom fighter" whose sacrifices and dedication "transformed his beloved country into a harmonious and multiracial nation that is today an example to nations around the world".

Dr Tan recalled introducing Mr Mandela when he delivered the 16th Singapore Lecture - on the topic South and Southern Africa Into The Next Century - during his visit in 1997.

"I remember telling the audience that he was 'no ordinary man'. He captivated everyone with his humility, charm and wit," Dr Tan wrote. "The rousing ovation that greeted his entry into and departure from the hall that day remains firmly etched in my memory."

During his two-day visit 16 years ago, Mr Mandela met the late president Ong Teng Cheong, then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Both Mr Lee and Mr Goh also penned their thoughts on the former South African leader upon hearing the news of his death.

Mr Lee described him as "an inspiration to an entire generation" without whom South Africa would not be where it is today.

Mr Goh, who met him on several occasions in Africa and at international summits, noted that Mr Mandela was always forthcoming and candid in his views and advice.

A hybrid orchid, which has a bright yellow hue and a blush of red, was named after Mr Mandela during his visit. A tree native of tropical West Africa, a Cola gigantea or Giant Cola, was also dedicated to commemorate his visit - a first for a visiting dignitary.

In a letter to his South African counterpart Maite Nkoana- Mashabane, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam wrote: "We shall not forget that the excellent bilateral relations that our two countries enjoy today was in no small measure due to Mr Mandela's sincere friendship towards Singapore."

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