JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela, a global symbol of resistance who liberated South Africa from much-despised apartheid regime and served as its first black President, died today at his home here after battling a protracted illness.
Mandela, also a recipient of India’s highest civilian award ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 1990, was receiving medical care from a team of doctors since September at his home in the suburb of Houghton here after spending three months in a Pretoria hospital for a recurrent lung ailment.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” he said.
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Zuma announced a state funeral for the elder statesman.
He said Mandela’s tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world: “His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love.”
Hundreds of South Africans all over the country huddled in groups from the early hours of this morning to mourn the death of Mandela, who led the liberation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as its first black President.
Mandela, a lawyer and ex-boxer, spent 27 years in prison, most of them on Robben Island, after being convicted in the Rivonia trial with several others 50 years ago.
He stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as President following the first democratic elections in 1994.
As president, Mandela worked for uniting the polarized nation dominated by tribal politics. He devoted his energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.
Mandela had been in and out of hospital for the past two years with a range of medical problems. His public appearances became rare but despite that he held a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world.
US President Barack Obama mourned Mandela’s death, saying “He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.”
“We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth,” Obama said.–PTI