Nelson Mandela Dies at 95

Former South African President Nelson Mandela smiles for photographers at his home in Johannesburg on Sept. 22, 2005. /Reuters Former South African President Nelson Mandela smiles for photographers at his home in Johannesburg on Sept. 22, 2005. /Reuters

South African President Jacob Zuma has announced the death of national icon Nelson Mandela in a somber address late Thursday that was instantly beamed around the world. Mandela's life spanned more than nine decades, and he steered the nation out of its darkest days under the racist apartheid regime to the exuberant, democratic Rainbow Nation it is today. 

The news came as no surprise -- Mandela had been in and out of the hospital for much of this year, and the 95 year old had lived a challenging and stressful life.

Nelson Mandela was once a young firebrand leader of the then-banned African National Congress, which opposed the racist, white-led apartheid regime. Mandela led the group's armed wing, an act that landed him in prison for 27 years.

Those were his, and South Africa's, darkest days.

But the charismatic Mandela managed to keep his resolve and lead his struggle from his jail cell. He emerged triumphant, having helped bring down apartheid and being elected president in the nation's first all-inclusive elections in 1994.

He served but one presidential term, but it is for his lifelong struggle that he will be remembered -- as a fighter and a prisoner turned statesman and peacemaker.

The task of telling the world of his death fell to President Jacob Zuma, a normally jovial leader who could not keep the sadness from his voice as he described the man so many South Africans consider the father of their nation.

"Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own and who saw his cause as their cause. Our nation has lost his greatest son.  Yet what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves and in him we saw so much of ourselves," said President Zuma.

VOA News / Dec. 06, 2013 08:06 KST