Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela, who was often dubbed as the `Gandhi of South Africa`, had strong Indian connections and striking similarities with India`s `Father of Nation`.
The anti-apartheid icon shared a special bond for India and this was there for the world to see when he chose the land of Gandhi, whom he called his `political guru" and a "role model", as his first destination abroad in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars.
In fact when he was released from prison in 1990, India conferred him with the Bharat Ratna, the nation`s highest civilian honour. This even before he got the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993. Mandela was the first non-Indian recipient of Bharat Ratna.
An avowed Gandhian, Madiba, as Mandela was affectionately known around the world, always praised Gandhi for his principles of `Satya and Ahimsa` and followed his philosophy.
"The Mahatma is an integral part of our history because it is here that he first experimented with truth; here that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice; here that he developed Satyagraha as a philosophy and a method of struggle," Mandela said at an unveiling of Gandhi Memorial in South Africa in 1993.
"Gandhi is most revered for his commitment to non-violence and the Congress Movement was strongly influenced by this Gandhian philosophy, it was a philosophy that achieved the mobilisation of millions of South Africans during the 1952 defiance campaign, which established the ANC as a mass-based organisation," Mandela had said in his address.
After his release in prison, where he spent years for his anti-apartheid efforts, Mandela often visited India and invited Indian dignitaries to South Africa. He will be remembered as much as an Indian leader and an inspirational figure in India.
As a strong follower of Gandhi`s teachings, he was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Price in 2001 for his peacemaking efforts by the Indian government.
Whenever Mandela visited India he considered it a pilgrimage to the land of his political guru. He said that India had great leaders and great people, a place that he will always admire.
Mandela often turned to Gandhi for inspiration in his efforts to defeat the oppressive apartheid regime and, in a piece written for Time magazine in 2000, he noted that the Father of the Indian Nation`s non-violent struggle had its roots in South Africa.
"India is Gandhi`s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen. Both countries contributed to his intellectual and moral genius, and he shaped the liberatory movements in both colonial theaters," Mandela wrote about Gandhi, whom he referred to as "The Sacred Warrior".
Hundreds of South Africans across the country huddled in groups from early this morning to mourn the death of Mandela. In the black township of Soweto, the scene of a student uprising in 1976 that was brutally crushed, people gathered near the house where Mandela once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his life.
The mourners, draped in the green, yellow and black flags of Mandela`s ANC party, formed a circle and sang songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. They said they were celebrating Mandela`s life.
Outside Mandela`s home in the leafy suburb of Houghton, the mood was lively and not sombre as some mourners sang and a man blew on a vuvuzela, the plastic horn used in World Cup soccer games.
Mandela, a lawyer and ex-boxer, spent 27 years in prison, most of them on Robben Island, after being convicted in the Rivonia trial with several others 50 years ago.
He stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as President following the first democratic elections in 1994.
As President, Mandela worked to unite a polarised South Africa dominated by tribal politics. He devoted his energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.
Mandela had been in and out of hospital for the past two years with a range of medical problems. His public appearances became rare but he continued to hold a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world.
US President Barack Obama mourned Mandela`s death, saying "He no longer belongs to us - he belongs to the ages.
"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," Obama said.