Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and the man widely seen as the architect of a peaceful transition to democracy after three centuries of apartheid rule, has died at his home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton. He was 95.
Mr Mandela had been receiving home-based intensive care after being discharged from hospital in September.
The South African president Jacob Zuma confirmed the news in a statement broadcast live on national television.
He said Mr Mandela had "departed" and was now at peace.
He said South Africa had lost its greatest son and its people had lost a father.
"His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him their love," he said.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them, we owe a debt of gratitude.
"They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free."
British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Mr Mandela tweeting: "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half mast.''
President Barack Obama said the day Mr Mandela was released from prison had given him a sense of "what a human being can do when they're guided by their hopes and not by their fears".
"I cannot imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set," he said.
"As long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him."
Mr Obama thanked the Mandela family for sharing "this extraordinary man" with the rest of the world.
He said Mr Mandela's legacy of a "free South Africa at peace with itself" was an example to the world.
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again."
"He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages", Mr Obama added.
Mr Mandela had been discharged at the start of September after spending 87 days in hospital – his fourth admission since December 2012 – and had remained in a “critical and at times unstable” condition while receiving intensive care at his home.
He had been vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his imprisonment under apartheid. But over the last year his condition had significantly worsened with a recurring lung infection the latest of his ailments.
His humanitarian legacy in 20th century history remains unrivalled. Mr Mandela practically changed the fabric of South African politics after being freed by the apartheid government in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment.
He later became South Africa’s first black president after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, serving one term until 1999.
The years that followed were marked by a seemingly endless succession of visits to him by world leaders and other prominent figures in which his unique status on the global stage was honoured.
But as age took its toll, Mr Mandela’s public appearances dwindled, and he had been rarely seen since the South Africa-hosted football World Cup of 2010.
News of his death brought the inevitable end to months of speculation over his deteriorating health with scenes that were at times criticised for their seeming lack of grace.
South Africa's first black president had been in the Mediclinic heart hospital in Pretoria where he had lain for 12 weeks after he being admitted on June 8 with a recurring lung infection. With his life hanging by a thread, rumours circulated, global news teams combed for clues and South Africans braced themselves for the inevitable end, with crowds laying flowers outside the hospital.
But at the start of September things changed unexpectedly after the country watched Mr Mandela discharged in an ambulance marked "paramedical intensive care" make the 31-mile journey from Pretoria back to Houghton where a makeshift clinic had been set up in Mr Mandela’s house allow the former president to receive similar levels of treatment.
These scenes were further played out against a backdrop of an odd internal dispute in the Mandela family. In July sixteen relatives won a court case against the former president’s eldest grandson, Mandla, ensuring that the bones of Mandela's three late children were dug up and moved to the village of Qunu – where Mandela himself has said he wants to be buried.
In The Independent on Saturday:
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