Mandela's shadow was hanging over Paris, as President François Hollande hosted some 40 African leaders in Paris for a two-day summit and this morning the Elysée's flag flew at half-mast.
Hollande was to open the meeting with a tribute.
Later flags were lowered all over the country and the French National Assembly observed a minute of silence in Mandela's memory.
Hollande announced Friday that he will attend the funeral in South Africa.
Anti-racist groups called two rallies to pay tribute to the anti-apartheid leader, one in front the South African embassy on Friday evening, the other on Saturday at the Saint Bernard church that was the focus of demonsrations in support of undocumented immigrants during the 1990s.
Amongst reactions from the French-speaking world:
- French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault: "He was an extraordinary man. He fought against racism, for freedom, his entire life he fought for justice, against the abjectness of apartheid."
- French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who has been the target of racist insults recently: "Heaven help those in the great beyond if they don't take care of you. It is grey and cold here, without you. I miss you."
- French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius: "The father of South Africa has gone. Mandela was the pillar of the fight for freedom and reconciliation. I greatly admired his fight against apartheid, a fight that I also commited myself to."
- Jean Glavany MP, president of France-South Africa friendships and minister under president François Mitterrand's, who often met Mandela: "Humanity lost its greatest son. I don't know anyone who carried universal values so far, so high."
- French far-right leader Marine Le Pen: "With Nelson Mandela's death, a great voice of Africa is extinguished. I salute the memory of the man and the president whwho, by patriotism and love of his people, led South Africa out of civil war, saving it from being torn apart ... Nelson Mandela imposed peace and reconciliation. This victory upon division, hate and revenge will indisputably mark history. "
- Opposition UMP leader Jean-François Copé: "A legendary figure of the 20th century, Mandela was an extraordinary man who put his intelligence and charisma to serve the highest values: freedom, equality, tolerance."
- Former French president Jacques Chirac: "A great light has gone out ... Since the day he stood up against the odious apartheid system I admired him as the fighter for freedom, inflexible, stately in the face of trials."
- Congolese former president Denis Sassou Nguesso : "His death will weigh heavily on the African summit, his themes [of peace and security] mean that this should be a moment of consultation and accountability for all. That would be a tribute to Mandela, who spent his entire life fighting for the liberation of the peoples of Africa and peace."
Tributes came also from other African nations, who have experienced colonisation.
- President Goodluck Jonathan, "Mandela will always be remembered and honoured by all mankind as one of its greatest liberators, a wise, courageous and compassionate leader, and an icon of true democracy."
- President of Senegal Macky Sall, "Nobody in our times, gave so much for his people, for Africa, for the good of mankind."