Tributes flooded in from across the world after it was announced that South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela had died at the age of 95.
The anti-apartheid icon, held in the highest esteem across the world for leading his nation’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s after 27 years in prison, had been receiving medical care for a lung infection at his home.
Mr Mandela spent his final months surrounded by family after being released from hospital following a three month stay and passed away peacefully, President Jacob Zuma announced in a televised address.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” he said. “Our people have lost a father.
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
A law student turned freedom fighter, his battle to end the system of apartheid that tore apart his nation led to his incarceration in a tiny cell in the infamous Robben Island jail.
Prime Minister David Cameron said “a great light has gone out in the world – Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time” while US president Barack Obama mourned the loss of “one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth”.
In 1993 Mr Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected South Africa’s first black president the following year.
American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said Mr Mandela’s “imprint” would be “everlasting”.
“My heart weighs heavy,” said Mr Jackson, who has been in the UK this week. “The imprint he left on our world is everlasting.”
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said Mr Mandela was “a giant for justice” whose “selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom” inspired many people around the world.
“No one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations,” he said.
President Zuma said the man known as Madiba would be afforded a state funeral and South African flags would be lowered to half-mast until the funeral.
“Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who more than any other came to embody their sense of a common nation,” he said from Pretoria.
“Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own and who saw his cause as their cause.”
The clearly emotional leader added: “Let us recall the values for which Madiba fought.
“Let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another.”