Former South African president Nelson Mandela died peacefully at home at the age of 95 last night after months fighting a lung infection.
The Nobel Peace laureate had been frail and ailing for nearly a year with a recurring lung illness that dated back to the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails, including Robben Island.
President Jacob Zuma’s announcement of the death of a man who was a symbol of struggle against injustice and of racial reconciliation reverberated through South Africa and around the world.
Mr Mandela’s passing, while long expected, left Africa’s biggest economy still distant from being the “Rainbow Nation” ideal of social peace and shared prosperity that he had proclaimed on his triumphant release from prison in 1990.
When Mr Zuma made his broadcast, the streets of the capital, Pretoria, and of Johannesburg were hushed, and in bars and nightclubs, music was turned off as people quietly listened.
A sombre Mr Zuma told the nation that Mr Mandela “passed on peacefully in the company of his family”.
US President Barack Obama said the world had lost “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth”.
President Michael D Higgins said Mr Mandela will be remembered as one of the greatest and most heroic leaders the world has ever known, describing him as a tower of inspiration for all those struggling for justice.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that with Mr. Mandela’s passing, ‘a great light had been extinguished’.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Mandela “a heroof our time”. “A great light has gone out in the world,” hesaid.
Praise also came from African leaders.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the death “will create a huge vacuum that will be difficult to fill in our continent”.
Ordinary South Africans were in shock. “It feels like it’s my father who has died. He was such a good man … He was a role model unlike our leaders of today,” said Annah Khokhozela, 37, a nanny, speaking in Johannesburg.
Outside Mr Mandela’s old house in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, a crowd of people, some with South African flags draped around them, gathered to sing songs in praise of the revered statesman.
“Mandela you brought us peace” was one of the songs.
Mr Zuma ordered flags to be flown at half mast and said there would be a full state funeral for South Africa’s first black president, who emerged from prison to help guide the country through bloodshed and turmoil to democracy.
The UN Security Council was in session when the ambassadors received the news of Mr Mandela’s death. They stopped their meeting and stood for a minute’s silence.
“Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters.
“Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.”
Nelson Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority apartheid government – a struggle that gave the 20th century one of its most respected and loved figures.
He was among the first to advocate armed resistance toapartheid in 1960 but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country’s white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later.