BEIJING, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- The late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela shared similarities with China's former leader Mao Zedong, said Bheki Langa, South African Ambassador to China in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
"They were both very strong leaders who fought for the liberation of their people, and who also contributed to laying the foundation for further development in society," Langa said at the South African Embassy in northeastern Beijing.
The ambassador said the two men resembled each other in terms of strong leadership qualities and a firm commitment to ending oppression and suffering of their people.
Mandela, who was respected and remembered for championing reconciliation between blacks and whites in South Africa, died aged 95 at his Johannesburg home last Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, plunging his nation and the world into mourning.
During his lifetime, Mandela never hid his admiration for the Chinese revolution. He said on many occasions that he was inspired by the work of Mao and the Chinese people's fight for national independence.
"He valued the contribution the Chinese people, government and Party had made in ending the obnoxious system of apartheid in South Africa," Langa said.
Mandela pushed the forging of diplomatic ties with China in January 1998, about one and a half years before he retired as the first black president in South Africa's history.
Meanwhile, the man's image as a revered freedom fighter is also well established in China.
Langa said he was amazed by the level of understanding and knowledge of Mandela after he came to China. "A lot of people that I have met here were touched by his spirit."
Hundreds of Chinese people have visited the embassy to pay tributes to Mandela. They brought flowers, stood in silent tribute and signed a book of condolence in front of a statue of Mandela.
"This is an opportunity for us to bring closer the Chinese people and the South African people," said Langa, adding that he hoped it would generate deeper understanding and awareness among Chinese people of South Africa.
The ambassador also recalled how Mandela influenced his own youth, during which he initiated protests with his peers after he completed high school only to find that he could hardly get employed as a young black man.
"One of Mandela's legacies is that good is more powerful than evil," said Langa. "He proved that we can achieve more by focusing on bringing people together rather than seeking revenge on those who treat us badly."
A memorial service for Mandela was held at the FNB Stadium Johannesburg on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of mourners and more than 90 world leaders gathered in the rain to remember South Africa's first black leader.
Mandela will be buried in Qunu, his ancestral home in the East Cape province, on Sunday.