Former South African President Nelson Mandela died peacefully at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection. He was 95.
Mandela, the country’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon, emerged from 27 years in apartheid prisons to help guide South Africa out of bloodshed and turmoil to democracy.
“Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love,” he added.
“Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed,” President Jacob Zuma said in a nationally televised address.
Mandela would receive a full state funeral, Zuma said, ordering flags to be flown at half mast, and he will be laid to rest at his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on December 15.
A week of national mourning would include an open-air memorial service at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium – the site of the 2010 World Cup final – on December 10, Zuma said.
Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from outside Mandela’s home in Johannesburg, said that there was a real sense of celebration in tribute to Mandela’s life there, while world leaders were also delivering their tributes .
Speaking to Al Jazeera from outside the former leader’s Mandela’s house, where people of various races were singing songs dedicated to the former leader, local journalist Kenichi Serino said that there were around a thousand people gathered there.
“There is a total mix of people. There are Indian people, black people, guys with dreadlocks… anyone with a car is here. It’s a cross-section of groups. There are lots of South African flags.”
He said that the atmosphere was a mixture of a sombre and festive mood.
“People are also taking pictures of themselves here, so as to capture the moment of them being here as well.”
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Soweto, where Mandela once lived, said radio stations were telling people that “once you wake up go to Vilakazi street”, famous for its place in the struggle against apartheid.
“The mood is basically one of celebrations … I think people know that he achieved a lot for his country. Yes, he was not perfect. He was, afterall, human but he was the man of the people,” she said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Thursday night, local resident Mbuso Mwandla, said that about a hundred leading African National Congress party comrades in Vilakazi street were chanting and marching in the streets. He said that the rest of Soweto remained quiet with people still waking up to the news.
Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority apartheid government – a struggle that gave the twentieth century one of its most respected and loved figures.
He was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid in 1960, but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country’s white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later.
Mandela was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 and retired in 1999.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honour he shared with FW de Klerk, the white Afrikaner leader who released from jail arguably the world’s most famous political prisoner.
“A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time,” de Klerk told CNN. “He was a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did. This emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy.”
As president, Mandela faced the monumental task of forging a new nation from the deep racial injustices left over from the apartheid era, making reconciliation the theme of his time in office.
Hallmark of mission
The hallmark of Mandela’s mission was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which probed apartheid crimes on both sides of the struggle and tried to heal the country’s wounds.
It also provided a model for other countries torn by civil strife.
In 1999, Mandela handed over power to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy – a rare voluntary departure from power cited as an example to African leaders.
In retirement, he shifted his energies to battling South Africa’s AIDS crisis and the struggle became personal when he lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005.
Mandela’s last major appearance on the global stage came in 2010 when he attended the championship match of the soccer World Cup, where he received a thunderous ovation from the 90,000 at the stadium in Soweto, the neighbourhood in which he cut his teeth as a resistance leader.
Charged with capital offences in the infamous 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.”
Mandela’s passing comes ahead of the country’s fifth election, and at a time when the country is battling challenges, both political and economic.
Ayesha Kajee, political analyst, told Al Jazeera that as South Africa and the world grieves “we need to recognise that, in order to truly honour [Mandela’s] legacy, and that of the countless unnamed heroes who sacrificed so much for our freedoms, we must take great care to not trample on the rights of our fellows, nor to squander our own rights in pursuit of the ephemeral.”
Mandela is survived by three daughters, 18 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. He had four step-children through his marriage to Machel.
His death has left his family divided over his wealth. Some of his children and grandchildren are locked in a legal feud with his close friends.