Johannesburg: UN chief Ban Ki-Moon paid homage on Monday to Nelson Mandela as a giant for justice, equality and human rights, and said the world has lost a hero.
Ban visited the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory in Johannesburg, where mourners lit candles and signed a book of condolences in memory of the democracy icon who died on Thursday.
"The world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela -- one of the towering figures of our time and indeed of any time," he told journalists after a whirlwind tour of the centre, which houses a collection of historical documents on Mandela`s life.
"We join together in sorrow for a mighty loss and in celebration of a mighty life.
"He was a giant for justice and equality and human rights."
Ban recounted meeting South Africa`s first black president at his home in 2009, and thanking Mandela for his contribution to peace and freedom.
He said he was struck by the Nobel laureate`s human decency.
"What he said at the time struck me so deeply. He said: `Well it`s not only me, there were hundreds and hundreds of known and unknown people who worked for that cause`.
"I was so deeply moved and touched. What he said is still guiding me."
Ban said South Africa and the world had lost a hero.
"Lala Ngoxolo," (rest in peace), he concluded in Mandela`s mother tongue, isiXhosa.