DENVER (CBS4) – The news of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s death at the age of 95 on Thursday did not come as a surprise to former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, but that didn’t diminish his sense of loss.

“I think the world has lost a great moral leader. … One that symbolizes freedom and justice and freedom from tyranny and oppression,” Webb told CBS4.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (credit: MICHEL CLEMENT,DANIEL JANIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Webb had championed Mandela from across the world years before he had a chance to meet him. He penned columns in the 1980s and protested as part of the Free Mandela movement.

“I thought that for many of us, what he symbolized, he was the George Washington for the African continent,” he said.

After Mandela’s release from prison, Webb traveled to South Africa and marveled at the then-president’s effect on others.

“He speaks with such moral clairity, that I’ve seen him around other presidents and dignitaries and when he walks in the room, it looks like everyone else shrinks.”

He even had a chance to visit Mandela’s prison cell and to reflect on his role model and his hero.

“I wondered to myself if I could accomplish what he did, of being in a (prison) cell that size for 27 years and come out with no bitterness,” Webb said.

Webb says he will not be going back to South Africa for Webb’s funeral, but he does plan to go at some point to pay his respects. He also anticipates there will be a memorial service in Denver at some point, but it has yet to be planned.


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