South Africa’s Nelson Mandela dies aged 95
Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the towering international symbol of racial tolerance, has died at the age of 95.
In a solemn address to the nation, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, said Mandela had died peacefully in the company of his family on Thursday night.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. This is the moment of our deepest sorrow,” he said.
“His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.”
South Africa’s government announced a state funeral for the country’s first black president who had for months been fighting a recurring lung infection, a consequence of the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails.
In a collective outpouring of emotion not seen since Mandela ushered in a new era of democracy in 1994, South Africans mourned the death of their first black president, whose tireless fight for freedom and equality helped force an end to white minority rule.
It was a day long expected and feared by South Africans of all races whom over the last year had closely monitored their ailing former president’s health.
South Africans gathered outside Mandela’s former Vilakazi Street home in Johannesburg overnight where many danced and sang to celebrate Mandela’s remarkable life.
Mr Zuma’s party, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), for which Mandela served as president, acknowledged Mandela’s selfless efforts to overthrow the tyranny of white minority rule.
“Our nation has lost a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and the hope of millions; here and abroad,” the ANC said.
“Madiba loved South Africa. We recall the strength of his fist punching the air as he stepped out of prison after 27 years; and his sternness during the negotiations for the freedom of our beloved country. We celebrate his ever-present smile, the cheerful Madiba jive, his love for children and great respect for the women of this country.”
Former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, said Mandela’s legacy would ensure stability in the country.
“To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames - as some have predicted - is to discredit South Africans and Madiba’s legacy,” he said.
The Democratic Alliance, the official opposition party to the ANC, also paid tribute to the father of a free South Africa.
“Today the rainbow nation lost its father,”it said. “Today, we are a nation united in grief.”
Known affectionately by his clan name of Madiba, he had been admitted to hospital with lung infections several times since December last year and South Africans braced themselves for the worst on Wednesday when his daughter admitted that he was on his deathbed.
Mandela’s condition deteriorated earlier this year when on June 8, just days before the 37th anniversary of the Soweto uprising that had revitalised the struggle against apartheid, he was admitted to hospital.
Dozens of peaceful protesters were killed on June 16, 1976, which changed the shape of resistance to apartheid. By then South Africa’s racist white regime had successfully undermined the ANC by jailing Mandela along with dozens of his colleagues.
The country marked that anniversary in a sombre mood, with many South Africans expressing their gratitude to Mandela on the day.
Although Mandela and the ANC leadership had been isolated in prison by 1976, the uprising thrust the anti-apartheid movement back into the spotlight. By the 1980s, Mandela had entered secret talks with the apartheid regime, which together with unrest on the streets, a faltering apartheid economy and mounting international pressure eventually created the conditions for a negotiated settlement, for which he won the Nobel Peace prize in 1993.
It was Madiba who led the ANC to South Africa’s first free elections in 1994 and he was swept into power with 63 per cent of the vote.
Fears of a race-based war were defused by Mandela’s moral gravitas both before the poll and during term as president. His efforts towards non-racialism made him a hero across the race divide and his message of peace, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation won him adoration the world over.
Mandela served just one term as South Africa’s president, leaving office in 1999, a fact often bemoaned by many South Africans. But on a continent where leaders often spend indefinite terms in office, Mandela was adamant that he step aside – to set an example both to South Africa and the continent.
Updated: December 6, 2013 04:00 AM