Nelson Mandela has died. The revered South African anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years in prison for his role in the anti-apartheid movement, led his country to democracy and became its first black president, died Thursday at his home in Johannesburg.
Mandela, 95, lost a long battle with a recurring lung infection. His respiratory problems are thought to be related to the years he spent behind bars, where he contracted tuberculosis. The freedom-fighter’s release in 1990 helped crush the system of legalized segregation in South Africa that was in place for over 45 years.
Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was elected president during South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994. After his term ended in 1999, the leader continued to be a voice for developing nations, human rights and fighting AIDS, making his final public appearance in 2010.
Nelson Mandela’s passing comes on the eve of the London premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; a biopic that has spurred Oscar buzz for Idris Elba’s role as the civil rights icon.
He will be remembered as a symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation by the South African people and those throughout the world, says South African President Jacob Zuma, who broke news of Mandela’s death with a short statement:
“The founding president of our democratic nation, has departed…Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”