A SOUTH African-born county councillor has led the tributes to Neslon Mandela, the iconic anti-apartheid leader and first black president of the rainbow nation, who passed away aged 95 last night, Thursday.

Labour councillor Brian Oosthuysen, who represents the Rodborough ward, described Mr Mandela as a ‘great human being’ and credited the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize-winner with creating a nation at ease with itself after decades of white minority rule.

Jailed in 1962 for his political views and outspoken opposition to the apartheid Government, Mr Mandela spent 27 years in prison before being released and presiding over a peaceful transition to multicultural democracy.

A staunch advocate of equal rights for both blacks and whites in post-apartheid South Africa, after being elected President in 1994 he founded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, appointing the Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its chairman.

Cllr Oosthuysen, who campaigned passionately against apartheid and became close friends with Desmond Tutu in the 1960s when they studied theology together at Kings College London, said the world celebrated in 1990 when Mr Mandela was finally freed.

"For me Nelson Mandela is – and will remain – South Africa's greatest son, a man who single handedly ensured that apartheid, that evil system, ended without civil war and without the deaths of thousands, or even millions of blacks and whites," said Cllr Oosthuysen.

"Everybody feared that civil war would break out in South Africa, but, as president, Madiba, as he is fondly known, showed no malice towards those who had imprisoned him and called for all to live peacefully, whatever had happened under apartheid.

"Setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Committee along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandela showed a nobility of character which made him stand out amongst world leaders.

"He also devised a constitution which had within it a bill of rights which is amongst the most progressive of any nation.

"Who else could say: ‘No one is born hating another because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.’"

Cllr Oosthuysen added: "He had and still has enormous moral authority and his going will leave a moral vacuum… A man like Nelson Mandela comes along once in a generation or more and the world was blessed that such a great man should grace our planet.

"We should honour his memory when he dies by acting as he did in times of great danger in South Africa. A great human being."

Paying his own tribute to Mr Mandela, Stroud MP Neil Carmichael, said: "I think he is one of the greatest political leaders we have had and his courage and determination and his values have been an inspiration to millions of people."

Former Stroud MP and Labour’s parliamentary candidate David Drew, said: "This is an incredibly sad day for the people of South Africa and indeed the world.

"He was an amazing man, fighting for justice on behalf of people who were suffering the worst excesses of apartheid.

"We were instrumental in setting up Stroud anti-apartheid group and the day he was released from prison was one of the most emotional days of my life.

"The world is a richer place for his time on this planet and his life will be remembered for the huge changes he helped bring about in South Africa and the inspiration he has been for millions of people across the globe."

Stroud’s deputy mayor and Green Party district councillor John Marjoram, who has requested that the flags outside Ebley Mill be lowered to half-mast as a mark of respect for Mr Mandela, said he was an ‘unbelievably strong man’.

"To be imprisoned for more than 20 years and to go through all of that and come out of it with optimism and steer South Africa in a new direction, in a non-violent way, not by taking over with guns, I have unbelievable admiration for such a person," he said.