Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa’s symbol of the struggle against racial oppression, Nelson Mandela, who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead his country out of decades of apartheid, died at age 95, on Thursday night (Dec. 5).
South African president Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference late Thursday, saying, “We’ve lost our greatest son.”
“He is now resting,” said South African President Jacob Zuma. “He is now at peace.”
His message of forgiveness, not vengeance, inspired the world after he negotiated a peaceful end to segregation and urged forgiveness for the white government that imprisoned him.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela said after he was freed in in 1990.
Mandela, a former president, battled health issues in recent years, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations.
Despite rare public appearances, he held a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world.
Mandela’s death closed the final chapter in South Africa’s struggle to cast off apartheid, leaving the world with indelible memories of a man of astonishing grace and good humor. Rock concerts celebrated his birthday. Hollywood stars glorified him on screen. And his regal bearing, graying hair and raspy voice made him instantly recognizable across the globe.
President Barack Obama said the world lost an influential, courageous and “profoundly good” man with Mandela’s death.
Speaking from the White House, Obama said Mandela “no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.”
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life,” he continued. “And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set.”
Obama met with Mandela’s family earlier this year when he visited South Africa. But he did not meet with the ailing leader, who was hospitalized throughout the U.S. president’s visit.
Nelson Mandela inspired a generation of activists, left celebrities and world leaders star-struck, won the Nobel Peace Prize and raised millions for humanitarian causes.
South Africa is still bedeviled by challenges, from class inequality to political corruption to AIDS. And with Mandela’s death, it has lost a beacon of optimism.
Mandela retired from public life in 2004 with the half-joking directive, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” and had largely stepped out of the spotlight, spending much of his time with family in his childhood village.
His health had been fragile in recent years. He had spent almost three months in a hospital in Pretoria after being admitted in June for a recurring lung infection.
He was released on Sept. 1 and officials had said only that he was responding to treatment until a flurry of activity outside his Johannesburg home Thursday evening, followed by the official announcement of his death.
RIP Nelson Mandela.