Nelson Mandela Dies: Former President of South Africa Has Passed Away

Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, has passed away. He was 95.  Dave Benett/Getty Images

The world is in mourning. Nelson Mandela, human rights leader, anti-apartheid icon and former president of South Africa, died on Thursday, Dec. 5. He was 95.

South African president Jacob Zuma, who confirmed the Nobel Peace prize winner had "departed" in a statement delivered Thursday afternoon, said South Africa had "lost its greatest son." 

"What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human," Zuma continued. "We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."

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Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, leaves behind a legacy of inspiring and mobilizing millions of activists around the world. President Barack Obama lauded Mandela's lifelong achievements in a live statement Thursday: "I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example Nelson Mandela set," Obama revealed. "He lives for the ages."

Mandela once wrote in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, "People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

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The revered statesman served as the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending apartheid through non-violent means in 1993. He retired from public life in 2004.

He was admitted to Mediclinic Heart Hospital back in June for a recurring lung infection.

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The human rights advocate, who married three times, is survived by six children, 17 grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren. He married his third wife, Graça Machel, in 1998.

One of Mandela's daughters Zindzi attended the London premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom — the biopic based on her father's life — which was held on Thursday at the Odeon Leicester Square Cinema. Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton joined her at the red carpet premiere.

Rather than releasing a written statement, William said a few words to reporters inside the Odeon cinema lobby following the screening: "It's extremely sad and tragic news. We are reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was," he said as the Duchess stood by his side. "My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. It’s very sad."

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A source tells Us Weekly that the royal couple was informed of Mandela's death by Palace aides during the screening. The news of his passing, however, was not formally announced until the credits rolled; the entire auditorium held a two-minute silence at the end of the movie.

Following the screening, the audience erupted into a rapturous applause and gave a standing ovation.

A state funeral for Mandela will be held on Sunday, Dec. 15, with all flags of the Republic of South Africa lowered to half mast until after the funeral to honor the late leader. 

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