SOUTH AFRICA (CNN) — Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid, has died, South African President Jacob Zuma announced late Thursday. He was 95.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human,” the president said in his late-night address. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
In Washington, President Obama said, “He achieved more than could be expected of any man and today he’s gone home. And we’ve lost one of the mostinfluential, courageous, and profoundly good human being any of us will share time with on this Earth.”
Mandela battled health issues in recent months, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations.
With advancing age and bouts of illness, Mandela retreated to a quiet life at his boyhood home in the nation’s Eastern Cape Province, where he said he was most at peace.
Despite rare public appearances, he held a special place in the nation’s consciousness.
A hero to blacks and whites
In a nation healing from the scars of apartheid, Mandela became a moral compass.
His defiance of white-minority rule and incarceration for fighting against segregation focused the world’s attention on apartheid, the legalized racial segregation enforced by the South African government until 1994.
In his lifetime, he was a man of complexities. He went from a militant freedom fighter, to a prisoner, to a unifying figure, to an elder statesman.
Years after his 1999 retirement from the presidency, Mandela was considered the ideal head of state. He became a yardstick for African leaders, who consistently fell short when measured against him.
Warm, lanky and charismatic in his silk, earth-toned dashikis, he was quick to admit to his shortcomings, endearing him further in a culture in which leaders rarely do.
His steely gaze disarmed opponents. So did his flashy smile.
Former South African President F.W. de Klerk was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 for transitioning the nation from a system of racial segregation.
“Today the world mourns the loss of a great moral leader,” Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray said in a statement. “Nelson Mandela was one of humanity’s brightest lights, and his example of the essential goodness that we are all capable of will continue to shine long after today.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said, “Mandela spent his entire life fighting against the shackles of oppression and after 27 years of imprisonment, he won freedom for his country and set a lasting example that the world will never forget. Mandela’s life shows how one man can truly change the world. May he rest in peace.”
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