After a prolonged illness due to a lung infection South African anti-apartheid hero, former President Nelson Mandela has died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 95. Plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man hailed by global leaders as a moral giant, his death was announced by current President Jacob Zuma. Although Mandela had been frail and ailing for nearly a year, his death has surely shaken South Africa and most of the world who adored the Nobel Peace laureate. Tributes began flooding in almost immediately for a man who was an iconic global symbol of struggle against injustice and of racial reconciliation.
Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority apartheid government – a struggle that gave the 20th century one of its most respected and loved figures. He was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid in 1960, but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country’s white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later. He was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 and retired in 1999. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honor he shared with FW de Klerk, the white Afrikaner leader who released from jail arguably the world’s most famous political prisoner. As president, Mandela faced the monumental task of forging a new nation from the deep racial injustices left over from the apartheid era, making reconciliation the theme of his time in office. In retirement, he shifted his energies to battling South Africa’s AIDS crisis, a struggle that became personal when he lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005.
Mandela’s last major appearance on the global stage came in 2010 when he attended the championship match of the soccer World Cup, where he received a thunderous ovation from the 90,000 at the stadium in Soweto, the neighborhood in which he cut his teeth as a resistance leader.