In a statement to South African television, Mr Zuma confirmed Mr Mandela has “departed” following a period of prolonged illness.
Mr Mandela had been receiving home-based treatment for a lung infection following three months in hospital earlier this year.
In the message from Mr Zuma, he said: “Our nation has lost its greatest son.”
On June 25th, the South African presidency said that Mr Mandela’s health had deteriorated to a critical condition. Mr Mandela remained in hospital over his 95th birthday in the Pretoria hospital. However, in September he returned home “to see out his final days”.
Mr Mandela’s health condition remained a closely guarded secret during his time in hospital with conflicting statements coming from the Mandela family, the hospital, and President Jacob Zuma. Court papers filed in early July reported that Mr Mandela was in a vegetative state and that he was “assisted in breathing by a life-support machine.”
Yesterday, Mr Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe said he continued to receive home-based medical treatment, and that he was putting up a courageous fight from his “deathbed.”
South Africa’s first black president was admitted to hospital in Pretoria for the third time this year due to a lung infection, at the beginning of June. He suffered damage to his lungs and contracted tuberculosis whilst imprisoned on Robben Island where he was forced to work in a quarry.
In July, a family feud deepened regarding where Mr Mandela will be buried. The dispute between Mr Mandela’s grandson Mandla and several other relatives centers around claims that Mandla unlawfully relocated the graves of three of Mr Mandela’s children to his village of Mvezo.
Mr Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe is quoted as saying that the graves were relocated to ensure that her father is buried in Mvezo, despite the wishes of Mr Mandela who had said he wanted to be buried in the village of Qunu where he grew up. Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged the family members to “dig deep within themselves to find the grace that their patriarch and nation deserves” rather than “besmirch his name.”
Revered for leading the fight against white domination in South Africa, Mr Mandela spent 27 years in prison for sabotage, going on to become the country’s president for five years following his release.
His passion for politics was fueled when enrolling in a law degree at Witwatersand University where Mr Mandela was exposed to radical racism which led to him joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. Opening a law firm in 1952, Mr Mandela worked with his business partner Oliver Tambo to fight the National Party’s policy of apartheid, which oppressed the black majority.
In 1960, tensions grew when police shot 69 black people dead in the Sharpeville massacre, marking the end of peaceful resistance. Just weeks later, the ANC – which Mr Mandela was national vice-president of – was outlawed. As the ANC launched a clandestine campaign of economic sabotage, Mr Mandela was forced underground, becoming known as the Black Pimpernel due to his ability to avoid the police.
However, he was ultimately arrested and imprisoned at the Rivonia Trials, being charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government. Mr Mandela used the dock of the court room to convey his beliefs about democracy, equality and freedom:
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he said.
His imprisonment provoked further support, and pressure from world leaders eventually resulted in South Africa’s president FW de Klerk lifting the ban on the ANC, and releasing Mr Mandela in 1990 after spending 27 years in prison.
Alongside his struggle for a multi-racial democracy, Mr Mandela was a leading figure in the drive for peace in spheres of conflict, and more recently he campaigned against HIV/AIDs. Announcing in 2005 that his son Makgatho had died of the disease, he became an influential campaigner in making South Africans talk about it “to make it appear like a normal illness.”
In 1999 Mr Mandela retired from presidency, and in 2004, he also retired from public life at the age of 85 in order to engage in “quiet reflection” and to spend more time with his family and friends.