Nelson Mandela, 'The Epicenter of Our Time,' Has Died

"I don't think there is much history can say about me," Mandela said during one of several memorable speeches in a singular, world-changing life that came to an end today. "I just want to be remembered as part of the collective." But there is, and he will be. Stay tuned here for the latest updates and remembrances.

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Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa whose revolutionary politics and revolution in humanitarianism gave rise to his legend as the embodiment of peace on Earth and to the fall of apartheid, passed away today at the age of 95, according to an announcement made by South African president Jacob Zuma on Thursday evening. "This is our moment of greatest sorrow," Zuma said of Mandela's passing. According to Zuma, Mandela passed away peacefully at his home at 8:50 p.m., South African time. Mandela will receive a state funeral. 

Mandela spent three months in the hospital earlier this year with a lung infection, a recurring condition after contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment in South Africa. The former president was released from the hospital in September, and placed under intensive home care. Earlier on Thursday, family members, media, and government officials gathered at the Mandela home over concern about his condition. Shortly afterward, Zuma addressed his nation in a televised address: 

Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rohlihla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed. ... Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love.

The crowd around Mandela's home only grew, as mourners gathered to pay tribute. Remembrances poured out from all over the world following Zuma's announcement. In a televised statement on Thursday evening, President Obama spoke of the influence Mandela's work had on him, personally, and to the entire world "I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example Mandela set." Obama said, adding that Mandela "no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."

"I don't think there is much history can say about me," Mandela said during a famous speech in April 1964, when his trial and subsequent imprisonment in Johannesburg for starting a workers strike drew an international outcry. "I just want to be remembered as part of the collective." But there is, and he will be.

Indeed, Mandela most certainly was one of the most influential and inspirational leaders not just in African history but that of the world. From 1994 to 1999, he was the first black South African to serve as president, as he unwound his country's painful history of apartheid into a proud new history of peace. During his 1994 election, Mandela's African Nation Congress party won 252 of the 400 seats in the first-ever democratic elections in South Africa — the truest sign that apartheid was over and healing could begin.

Mandela, of course, became president only after spending more than two-dozen years behind bars. He was charged with inciting workers strikes and leaving the country without permission and was jailed in 1962. "Free Nelson Mandela" became a worldwide rallying cry for peace, and his face a symbol for strength. "I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness," he wrote in Notes to the Future. "The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

Mandela, already a global icon for his time in prison, became a global hero for everything he did thereafter. "He is at the epicenter of our time, ours in South Africa, and yours, wherever you are," the South African Nobel laureate Nadime Gordimer wrote after Mandela's release in 1990. But the same could have been said of the man before and certainly after. His peace efforts were beyond historic, between AIDS activism and advising other world leaders. He will surely be eulogized by many of them.

Rolihlahla Mandela was born in South Africa in 1918. He is survived by his wife Graca, his ex-wife Winnie, his five children, and a world at relative peace.

​We've collected some of the notable emerging reads on Mandela's passing below: 

Bill Keller: The former executive editor of the New York Times was also the paper's South Africa correspondent in the 1990s. His 10-page longread obituary of Mandela will be the most thorough you'll find. Keller writes "The question most often asked about Mr. Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite...The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire."

The New York Times: In addition to Keller's obit, the paper has a dedicated Mandela section, with a collection of his speeches, a timeline of his life and memories from NYT's Africa-based correspondents and bureau chiefs, including current Johannesburg chief Lydia Polgreen. She writes: "Make no mistake. Race remains a deep divide in South Africa — the legacy of so many years of forced separation is not easily undone. And interracial marriage is still relatively rare. But when I look at the butterscotch faces these unions produce, so much like my own, I remember just how far this nation has come."

The New Yorker: Next week's issue features an oil painting on the cover by artist Kadir Nelson. Here's Nelson, on his work:  “He was clearly a leader. I wanted to make a simple and bold statement about Mandela and his life as a freedom fighter. The raised fist and the simple, stark palette reminded me of posters and anti-apartheid imagery of the nineteen-eighties. This painting is a tribute to the struggle for freedom from all forms of discrimination, and Nelson’s very prominent role as a leader in the anti-apartheid movement.”

Mail & Guardian: South African weekly paper's Mandela tribute section, including an article from 1986 featuring "the first legal photo of Mandela in 22 years." Mandela had been "banned" in South Africa, meaning it was illegal to publish his photos or even quote him. "Everyone knows his name and what he stands for. But almost no-one knows what Nelson Mandela looks like," the paper wrote at the time.

Documentary: The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela: Shortly after his passing, PBS's Frontline posted an updated version of their 1999 Mandela retrospective. You can watch the entire thing here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.