Crowds at Nelson Mandela statue in Washington

Mourners and journalists gathered late Thursday at the statue of Nelson Mandela outside the South African Embassy in Washington after word of his death at home in a Johannesburg suburb reached the U.S. capital. (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency / December 5, 2013)

WASHINGTON -- At the South African Embassy in Washington, mourners left bouquets of roses in front of a statue of Nelson Mandela that was unveiled in honor of the revered civil rights champion just three months ago. 

Although the statue was shielded by a chain-link fence because of construction in front of the embassy, part of the cordon was opened to allow visitors to place bouquets and candles in memory of Mandela after word of his death Thursday reached the U.S. capital.

"I see his death as a sad time for all of us," said Peter Boyce, 50, a political consultant and Barbados native who lives in Washington. "But yet still in his death I see a rebirth because it gives us an encouragement to remember his work and add to his work, add to his legacy -- don't be marred with anger, but to forgive and to move on and to work harmoniously together as a people."

FULL COVERAGE: Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela dies

Tears streamed down Jan Smart's face as she spoke of Mandela's legacy and his impact on her life.

"He set a great example for the world of what we can do as individuals," said Smart, 66, who lives in Washington but is from Australia.

"I think there are so few wonderful people like him in the world," she added. "I think of Martin Luther King and Mandela, and the people we've lost."

She said she attended the unveiling of the statue in September and was struck by the juxtaposition of Mandela's outstretched fist seeming to salute the statue of Winston Churchill giving a peace sign directly across Massachusetts Avenue at the British Embassy.

Smart said Mandela's death was "a great loss."

But, she said, "I have great faith in humankind that somebody else will come along like him." 

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becca.clemons@latimes.com