Former South African president and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela, has passed away in his home following a long fight against illness, current head of state Jacob Zuma revealed on Thursday in a press conference.
Zuma announced in the afternoon that 'Madiba', as he was known locally, passed away peacefully in his Johannesburg residence after a prolonged lung infection.
Our nation has lost its greatest son, the president stated in his address to the South African people
The president also confirmed that the former leader of the African National Congress would be given a state funeral, and that flags in South Africa would be flown at half-mast as a sign of respect for the statesman.
The ANC released a statement paying tribute to the Nobel Peace Prize winner, stating that the world has lost a colossus and epitome of humility, equality, justice and peace on his passing.
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.
Mandela, who in 1994 became the country's first black president after the system of apartheid which disenfranchised the majority population collapsed, had struggled with health problems in his later years.
After spending much of 2013 hospitalized due to a lung infection, he was allowed to return home in September, where he spent his final days.
Latin American leaders reacted immediately to the news and unanimously expressed their grief but underlined admiration for a man who dedicated his life to peace, equality and reconciliation.
Brazil's Dilma Rousseff said Mandela was an example and will guide all those who fight for social justice and for peace in the world. He was the greatest personality of the XXth century and steered with passion and intelligence one of the most important emancipation processes of contemporary history: the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernández expressed her sorrow calling Mandela a worldwide example for the fight against racism and in support of human rights.
A statement released by the Argentine Foreign Ministry affirmed that ”the President... her government and the Argentine people express their deepest regret for the passing of ex-president of South Africa worldwide example for the fight against racism and in support of human rights, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), and our thoughts are with his family, the people and the South African government in this time of pain and sadness.
An indefatigable fighter for the triumph of democracy in his nation, Nelson Mandela, the much-loved 'Madiba', was one of the leaders of the resistance against the apartheid regime, becoming a world icon against discrimination and racial segregation, the official missive added.
As president (1994-1999), Mandela, converted South Africa into one of the most vibrant and dynamic democracies on the African continent and in the world, creating, alongside his people and partners in the struggle, an example for other nations in the fields of human rights and social inclusion
Chile's Sebastian Piñera said one of the greatest among the greatest has died. The Chilean presidency and the Chilean people express their deepest regret but also gratitude for all that the South African leader did for peace in the world
He had the generosity to pardon, to fight all his life for reconciliation among South Africans, whites and blacks and for peace in his land.
Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos, said Mandela's legacy remains as our guide to reach peace. The Colombian president has often quoted from Mandela's speeches as an inspiration for his country's struggle to achieve peace in Colombia after decades of internal fighting.
Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto said humanity has lost an indefatigable fighter for peace, freedom and equality; rest in peace Nelson Mandela
Reaction among world leaders was equally moving.
US President Barack Obama spoke shortly afterwards. We've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth, he said.
Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.
A great light has gone out in the world said British PM David Cameron. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time.
French President Francois Hollande said Mr Mandela's message would continue to inspire fighters for freedom, and to give confidence to peoples in the defense of just causes and universal rights, while Germany's Angela Merkel said Mr Mandela's political legacy of non-violence and the condemnation of all forms of racism would continue to inspire.
Mr Mandela was an inspiration to the oppressed peoples all over the world and had made unparalleled personal sacrifices, said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
India's Manmohan Singh said: A giant among men has passed away.
For UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Mr Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration.
South Africa ex-President FW de Klerk, who freed Mandela from prison in 1990 and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1993, said: Tata, we shall miss you - but know that your spirit and example will always be there to guide us to the vision of a better and more just South Africa.
We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life, said former US President Bill Clinton.