Nation mourns its 'father' Mandela

South Africans have gathered to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela – and celebrate his colossal life.

A group of mourners sing and dance outside the Johannesburg home of former president Nelson Mandela today.

As the news of his death at 95 spread across the world, people in the black township of Soweto took to the streets near the house where their first black president once lived, singing and dancing.

Amid the deep sadness at the loss of a man considered by many to be the father of the nation, mourners said it was also a time to celebrate the achievements of the anti-apartheid leader who emerged from prison to lead South Africa.

President Jacob Zuma, dressed in black, announced the news of Mr Mandela’s death on television, saying the man known affectionately by his clan name Madiba had died “peacefully” at around 8.50pm surrounded by his family.

“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Mr Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”

The president said all national flags would be at half-mast until after a state funeral. Many South Africans, having missed the news after going to bed, would awaken to a country without its spiritual and moral leader.

Several hundred people milled around outside Mr Mandela’s home in the leafy Houghton neighbourhood of Johannesburg, with the mood lively rather than sombre. Some sang and swayed, a man blew on a vuvuzela horn widely used at World Cup games in South Africa in 2010, and another marched towards the house and shouted “Nelson!”.

People photographed a makeshift shrine of candles, a national flag and bouquets of flowers. A framed portrait of a smiling Mr Mandela was propped against a tree with the caption: “Rest in peace, Madiba”.

Some Soweto residents gathered in front of Mr Mandela’s old home in the early hours to mark his death. About 40 formed a circle in the middle of Vilakazi Street and sang songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. Some were draped in South African flags and the green, yellow and black colours of Mr Mandela’s party, the African National Congress.

An artist who goes by the name "Franco the Great" stands in front of a mural of Nelson Mandela that he painted in 1995, and later added U.S. President Barack Obama, on 125th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.

“We are celebrating his life and all that he did for us,” said Terry Mokoena, 47. “I am happy that he is now at peace. He has done so much for us, it would be greedy for us to say that he should do more. Mandela united us – black, white, colored and Indian – he taught us togetherness.”

“He came here to Soweto as a lawyer and he led us. When he came out of jail in 1994, after 27 years, he did not come out a bitter man and encourage us to fight. No, he came out with a message of peace,” said Mbulelo Radebe, 37.

At Nelson Mandela Square in the wealthy Sandton neighbourhood of Johannesburg, six people stood at the foot of a bronze statue of Mr Mandela, paying homage to the leader. The six were two whites, two blacks and two of Indian descent, representing South Africa’s “rainbow nation” that Mr Mandela had fought and sacrificed for.

Big gatherings of mourners are expected in coming days as the country prepares a formal farewell for a man who helped guide the country from racial conflict to all-race elections in 1994.

“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” said US president Barack Obama, who shares with Mr Mandela the distinction of being his nation’s first black president.

“He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to empathize with others,” retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said.

“He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.”

FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, said he and Mr Mandela first met in 1989 and concluded they could do business as the country embarked on its long-awaited transition to democratic rule.

“Although we were political opponents – and although our relationship was often stormy – we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process,” Mr de Klerk said.

The Apollo Theatre marquee commemorating the life of South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Human rights advocate George Bizos said Mr Mandela, a long-time friend, never wavered in his dedication to non-racial and democratic ideals. “He was larger than life. We will not find another like him,” he said.

Former US president Jimmy Carter said: “His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world’s leading democracies.”

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said Nelson Mandela was “a giant for justice” who inspired people to fight for a better world. The UN Security Council interrupted a meeting on the tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda last night and stood for a minute in silent tribute to Mr Mandela.

Former UN chief Kofi Annan said the world had lost “a visionary leader, a courageous voice for justice and a clear moral compass” and President Xi Jinping of China praised Mr Mandela’s victory in the anti-apartheid struggle and his contribution to “the cause of human progress”.

“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,” said the US actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mr Mandela in the 2009 film Invictus.

France’s President Francois Hollande said: “Mandela’s message will not disappear. It will continue to inspire those fighting for freedom and to give confidence to people defending just causes and universal rights.”

Burma pro-democracy leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi described Mr Mandela as a “great human being who raised the standard of humanity” and India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh compared him to his country’s own icon for the struggle for freedom, independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and “a giant among men”.

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott described him as one of the great figures of the 20th century who had healed a broken country and Mr Mandela was also mourned in Cuba, which considered him a hero for supporting it amid US and international criticism.

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