Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that former South African President Nelson Mandela was a “great statesman” and a “global symbol of reconciliation” for his leadership during and after apartheid.

“Elaine [Chao, McConnell’s wife] and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela, a man whose skillful guidance of South Africa following the end of the apartheid regime made him one of the great statesmen of our time and a global symbol of reconciliation,” McConnell said.

“[Mandela’s] patience through imprisonment and insistence on unity over vengeance in the delicate period in which he served stand as a permanent reminder to the world of the value of perseverance and the positive influence one good man or woman can have over the course of human affairs,” McConnell said. “The world mourns this great leader. May his passing lead to a deeper commitment to reconciliation around the world.”