Former South Africa President and 'father of the nation', Nelson Mandela, died at home surrounded by family this evening (5 December 2013), President Jacob Zuma has announced.
"We have lost one of our greatest sons", President Zuma said, speaking of Nelson Mandela's humility as well as of his role as a moral and political leader in the struggle for freedom.
"I have no doubt he's going to be remembered as an icon of reconciliation and forgiveness; a person of very considerable magnanimity; a person who was able to preside over a process of transformation," Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu told Channel 4 News
Writing for AllAfrica.com, Archbishop Tutu, said: "Nelson Mandela is mourned by South Africans, Africans and the international community today as the leader of our generation who stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries — a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, the world's most admired and revered public figure.
"Not since Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere and Senghor has Africa seen his like. Looking for comparisons beyond Africa, he will go down in history as South Africa's George Washington, a person who within a single five-year presidency became the principal icon of both liberation and reconciliation, loved by those of all political persuasions as the founder of modern, democratic South Africa."
US President Obama made a brief statement, citing Mandela's three hour 'speech from the dock' at his trial, focusing on freedom and justice for all.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation said tonight: "It is with the deepest regret that we have learned of the passing of our founder, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – Madiba. The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa will shortly make further official announcements.
"We want to express our sadness at this time. No words can adequately describe this enormous loss to our nation and to the world.
"We give thanks for his life, his leadership, his devotion to humanity and humanitarian causes. We salute our friend, colleague and comrade and thank him for his sacrifices for our freedom. The three charitable organisations that he created dedicate ourselves to continue promoting his extraordinary legacy."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Conservative Party had appeased and in some cases supported apartheid South Africa, said this evening that "a great light has gone out". His predecessor Margaret Thatcher had denounced Mandela as "a terrorist" and worked tirelessly to undermine the sanctions campaign he called for.
A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, 18 of them on Robben Island, after being found guilty of treason for opposing the apartheid state.
Though he supported an armed struggle against apartheid, upon release he urged an end to violence and embraced reconciliation and forgiveness -- including towards his gaolers.
Winning the first free election in 1994 for the African National Congress (ANC) by a landslide, Nelson Mandela became President and formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to defuse tensions.
He promulgated a new constitution and initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. His administration introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand health care.
Mandela's government was criticised for accommodating too much with 'free market' economic policies that allowed poverty to continue to spread, and for lack of action on HIV-AIDS. He also declined to speak out directly about the abuses being committed by the regime in Zimbabwe, led by his erstwhile comrade Robert Mugabe.
In later years he acknowledged these and other shortcomings, eschewing attempts to turn him into a kind of secular saint.
"I'm not a saint - unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying," he once declared, revealing the deep Christian roots of his outlook and philosophy, formed at a mission church after which he named his retirement home in Houghton, Johannesburg.
Internationally, 'Madiba', as he was popularly known, was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.
In 1998 he was received with great acclaim by the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Mandela went on to became an elder statesman, focusing on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation, winning over 250 awards, helping to form The Elders group to work for human rights and peace across the world.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian political think-tank Ekklesia, sent a short message to the Mandela family this evening. It read, in part: "I briefly encountered Madiba when he spoke at the World Council of Churches assembly in Harare in 1998. It was, for many of us, one of the most moving moments of our lives. He was and is an extraordinary man, infusing a relentless struggle for justice and freedom with a spirit of transformation, reconciliation and forgiveness."
* Tribute from Desmond Tutu: http://allafrica.com/stories/201312051793.html
* Messages of condolence can be left here: http://www.nelsonmandela.org/p90/index.html