Former South African leader Nelson Mandela has died peacefully at the age of 95.
In a televised address, the country’s president, Jacob Zuma said: “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.” He urged the South African people to 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,” he said. “We will always love you Madiba. May your soul rest in peace. God bless Africa.”
Long a towering figure in world politics, Nelson Mandela began his journey in 1961 as a revolutionary fighting to defeat apartheid. After serving almost 30 years in jail for his part in South Africa’s armed struggle, and amid escalating civil strife and international anti-apartheid protests, he was released.
Subsequent negotiations paved the way for South Africa’s first fully representative, multiracial election. In that election he led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory, and in 1994 became the nation’s first black President to hold the office.
Right-wing regimes such as the British government under Margaret Thatcher denounced him as a ‘terrorist’. But ultimately he received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin for his anti-colonial and anti-apartheid stance.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins described him as “one of history’s greatest leaders, a man whose unprecedented courage and dedication broke down the cruel barriers of apartheid in South Africa and led the nation into a new and democratic age.”
He added: “His journey to the ending of apartheid and into a new chapter in South African and world history was long, hazardous and involved considerable self-sacrifice.”
US president Barack Obama said Mr Mandela’s deepest legacy was “a free South Africa at peace with the world”.
He said he could not fully imagine his own life without the example set. “Today he’s gone home,” Mr Obama said.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams also expressed his sadness.
“Nelson Mandela was a towering figure and an inspiration to freedom loving people the world over,” he said.
“I wish to extend on my own behalf and that of Sinn Fein, my heartfelt sympathy to Madiba’s family, to the ANC and to the people of South Africa. Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris.”