South Africa's beloved first black president Nelson Mandela passes away

South Africa's beloved first black president Nelson Mandela passes away

JOHANESSBURG - Reuters / Agence France-Presse
South Africas beloved first black president Nelson Mandela passes away

Former South African President Nelson Mandela waves to the crowd at Soccer City stadium during the closing ceremony for the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, in this July 11, 2010 file photo. REUTERS photo

Anti-apartheid icon, South Africa's beloved first black president and father of the "rainbow nation" Nelson Mandela has died on Dec. 5, President Jacob Zuma confirmed in a nationally televised address.

Mandela, 95, was receiving intense treatment for more than five month due to a lung infection.

Zuma said Nelson Mandela passed away peacefully at his Johannesburg home.  "He is now resting ... he is now at peace," an emotional Zuma said. "Our nation has lost its greatest son."  

Mandela will be accorded a state funeral and national flags will be lowered to half mast, he added. 

he Nobel Peace Prize winner spent 27 years behind bars before being freed in 1990 to lead the African National Congress (ANC) in negotiations with the white minority rulers which culminated in the first multi-racial elections in 1994.

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.

He then took up a new role as a roving elder statesman and leading AIDS campaigner before finally retiring from public life in 2004.

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

"When he emerged from prison people discovered that he was all the things they had hoped for and more," fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said.

"He is by far the most admired and revered statesperson in the world and one of the greatest human beings to walk this earth."

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.

Tributes flood in

Tributes have poured out after the death of arguably one of the world's most admires statesmen. U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Mandela as "a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice."

Describing the South African leader as "influential, courageous and profoundly good" human being, Obama said he cannot imagine his own life without the example set by Mandela.

For his part, British Prime Minister David Cameron revealed that flags would be flown at half-mast at his Downing Street Office. "A great light has gone out in the world," said a statement released by Cameron. "Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death - a true global hero."

United Nations General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon also praised Mandela as "a giant for justice."

For its part, South Africa's African National Congress said the nation lost "a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and hope of millions."