Former South African president Nelson Mandela dies at age 95

JOHANNESBURG - His native land and the world are mourning the loss of South African leader Nelson Mandela. The country's first black president has died at 95 after a long illness.

Mandela, a former boxer, attorney and freedom fighter, spent nearly one-third of his life as a political prisoner of apartheid, the legalized racist system of oppression controlled by South Africa's white minority.

Amazingly he emerged advocating forgiveness, even acceptance of the minority Afrikaans culture to form a democratic non-racial government.

His transformation from freedom fighter to statesman caused admirers to compare Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr. and Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.

South Africa's current leader, President Jacob Zuma, announced Mandela's death during a TV broadcast Thursday night. Zuma said the nation had lost its greatest son and that the people had lost a father. Zuma said Mandela died "peacefully" while with his family.

IMAGES: Nelson Mandela through the years

In recent years, Mandela dealt with numerous health problems, including a battles with a chronic lung infection.

According to ABC News, Mandela's last public appearance was in July 2010 at the final match of the World Cup held in South Africa.

President Barack Obama spoke on Mandela's passing, saying the world lost an influential, courageous and 'profoundly good' man.

Obama said Mandela "no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."
Speaking from the White House, Obama said he was one of the countless millions around the world who was influenced by Mandela.  

Obama met with Mandela's family earlier this year when he visited South Africa. But he did not meet with the ailing leader, who was hospitalized throughout the U.S. president's visit.

San Diego Interim Mayor Todd Gloria issued the following statement on Mandela's death:

"Nelson Mandela's resilience -- and his relentless dedication to the principles of justice and human rights -- have served as an inspiration to people around the world. Let's mourn his passing but also celebrate his extraordinary life and his indelible contributions to humankind."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Mandela was "a giant for justice" whose "selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom" inspired many people around the world.

"No one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations," he told reporters soon after Mandela's death was announced Thursday.

"Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world, and within each one of us, if we believe a dream and work together for justice and humanity," Ban said. "Let us continue each day to be inspired by Nelson Mandela's lifelong example to keep working for a better and more just world."

The U.N. Security Council interrupted a meeting on the tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and stood for a minute in silent tribute to Mandela.

Actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the film "Invictus," hailed the former South African president as a "true giant."

Freeman portrayed Mandela in the Clint Eastwood-directed film that chronicled the newly elected president's support of the national rugby team as a unifying force in the racially torn nation. Freeman was nominated for an Oscar for his work in the film.

"Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century," Freeman said. "Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength and unyielding resolve -- a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind.

"As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we've come, but on how far we have to go," he said. "Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us."

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