|Nelson Mandela.— Photo nouveaucourrier.net
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela, the icon of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle and a colossus of 20th century politics, died late on Thursday aged 95, prompting mass mourning and a global celebration of his astonishing life.
The Nobel Peace laureate, who was elected South Africa's first black president after spending nearly three decades in jail, died at his Johannesburg home surrounded by his family, after a long battle against lung infection.
The news was announced to the nation and the world by an emotional South African President Jacob Zuma, in a live late-night broadcast.
"Our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed," said Zuma, whose own role in the struggle against white rule saw him imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."
Zuma announced Mandela will receive a full state funeral and he ordered flags to remain at half-mast until after the burial. National flags were also lowered in countries including the United States, testament to the anti-apartheid's titanic status far beyond South Africa.
Barack Obama, America's first black president, paid tribute to a man who "took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice".
Obama was joined in mourning by a roll call of figures from across the worlds of politics, business and sport, reflecting how much Mandela had touched hearts as a rallying point for justice and good causes after he drew a "Rainbow Nation" out of his diverse homeland.
Speaking on behalf of the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared Mandela a "giant for justice."
"Many around the world were influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. He touched our lives in deeply personal ways," Ban told reporters.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who in 2006 apologised for what he said were the "mistakes" of his Conservative Party in its response to apartheid in Britain's former colony, was also moved.
"A great light has gone out in the world," he said in Downing Street.
"Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death – a true global hero."
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, in China on an official visit, dubbed Mandela "an extraordinary man" who would "long be an inspiration to all of humanity."
Chinese President Xi Jinping praised Nelson Mandela's "historic contribution" to South Africa and the world.
"Mr Mandela was a world renowned statesman," Xi said in a message of condolence to South African President Jacob Zuma, according to a report posted on the central government's website.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday hailed South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela as a "true Gandhian" who would continue to inspire future generations after his death.
In Africa and other parts of the world that shook off the shackles of colonialism, emotion was running high.
Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan dubbed Mandela "one of mankind's greatest liberators" and Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto said: "Humanity has lost a tireless fighter for peace, freedom and equality."
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said: "The example of this great leader will guide all those who fight for social justice and peace in the world."
Mandela's extraordinary life story, quirky sense of humour and lack of bitterness towards his former oppressors ensured global appeal for the charismatic leader.
He spent 27 years behind bars before being freed in 1990 to lead the African National Congress (ANC) in negotiations with the white minority rulers which culminated in the first multi-racial elections in 1994.
A victorious Mandela served a single term as president before taking up a new role as a roving elder statesman and leading AIDS campaigner before finally retiring from public life in 2004.
The man he replaced, South Africa's last white president FW de Klerk, also paid tribute.
"South Africa has lost one of its founding fathers and one of its greatest sons," he said. — AFP