Nelson Mandela, the hero of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, died Thursday at age 95.
South African President Jacob Zuma announced the death late Thursday night.
“He passed on peacefully in the company of his family,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son; our people have lost their father.” He said Mandela had died at 8:50 p.m. that night.
World leaders issued heartfelt statements to honor the late leader.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mandela was “a figure that set one of the greatest examples in our time. He was a father to his people, a man of vision, a freedom fighter who opposed violence.”
“He will be remembered as a moral leader of the first order,” said the prime minister.
President Shimon Peres called Mandela “a leader of immense stature who changed the course of history.”
US President Barack Obama said late Thursday that Mandela “belongs to the ages,” and “no longer belongs to us.”
“He achieved more than can be expected of any one man,” said the president in a special announcement at the White House following the announcement of the death.
“Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example set by Nelson Mandela,” Obama added.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently in Israel, said Mandela “gave new meaning to courage, character, forgiveness, and human dignity. Now that his long walk has ended, the example he set for all humanity lives on. He will be remembered as a pioneer for peace.”
“The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free,” said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called Mandela a “singular figure on the global stage – a man of quiet dignity and towering achievement, a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration.
“No one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations,” said Ban.
Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, after spending 27 years in jail. He served until 1999, but remained active in diplomacy afterward as well.
He was born on July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo.
He joined the African National Congress, then outlawed, in the 1940s and rose through its ranks. In 1962 he was sentenced to life in prison following a violent campaign against Pretoria’s apartheid government.
Mandela had been in and out of hospitals for several months before his death.
“Although we knew that this day will come, nothing will diminish the sense of a profound loss,” Zuma said. “This is the moment of our deepest sorrow.”
Zuma said Mandela would be afforded a state funeral and the country’s flags would be lowered to half-mast.
Mandela spent almost three months in a Pretoria hospital after being admitted in June with a recurring lung infection. The liberation struggle icon, known affectionately as Madiba, was discharged in September and had been receiving home-based medical attention since then.
Since June, the presidency had consistently described his condition as “critical but stable”.
Last month, Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was quoted as saying he was no longer talking “because of all the tubes that are in his mouth to clear (fluid from) the lungs.”
He had suffered from lung problems over the past three years and was hospitalized at least four times for the condition.
In February 2011, he was briefly hospitalized with a respiratory infection before being re-hospitalized for a lung infection and gallstone removal in December 2012. After a successful medical procedure in early March 2013, his lung infection recurred, and he was briefly hospitalized in Pretoria. On 8 June 2013, his lung infection worsened, and he was re-hospitalized in a serious condition.