Nelson Mandela has died aged 95, South African President Jacob Zuma has said. The anti-apartheid leader passed away peacefully at his home in Johannesburg after struggling with a recurring lung infection.
"Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rohlihla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed," President Jacob Zuma said in a nationally televised address on Thursday.
"This is our moment of deepest sorrow, our nation has lost its greatest son," said Zuma, who added that Mandela would be accorded a full state funeral and flags would be flown at half mast.
South Africans would "mourn the one person who, more than any other, came to embody their sense of common nationhood," he added.
Known to many around the world by his clan name, Madiba, Mandela inspired millions in South Africa and abroad.
Mandela was once labeled a terrorist by the United States and Britain for his support for violent resistance to the South Africa's apartheid government. He spent 27 years in prison, much of it on Robben Island, after being convicted of capital offences at the infamous Rivonia Trial.
He became South Africa's first black president four years after his release in 1990. He retired in 1999.
Mandela shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Price with former President Frederik Willem de Klerk; the foundation gave the duo the prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."
After leaving office Mandela became a leading figure in South Africa's fight against AIDS. He lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005. His made his last major appearance on the World stage at the 2010 World Cup final.
In June, Mandela was hospitalized with a recurring lung infection. At the time, officials had described his condition as serious but stable.
"Although we knew that his day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss," said Zuma. "His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world."
Hours after his death, hundreds of people gathered outside Mandela's house in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton. People in the crowd waved South African flags, held candles and sang the country's post-apartheid national anthem.
At his old home in Soweto, which has become a tourist attraction, around 40 people formed a circle in the middle of the street and sang anti-apartheid songs.
Larger gatherings are expected in the coming days as the country prepares for formal remembrance services.
dr/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)