Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years as a prisoner in South Africa for opposing apartheid, then emerged to become his country's first black president, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and an enduring symbol of integrity, principle and resilience, died Thursday at 95.RELATED: What you might not have known about Nelson Mandela
The announcement was made by South African president Jacob Zuma, who said in a nationally televised address," Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss."
Mandela had spent almost three months in a Pretoria hospital after being admitted in June with a recurring lung infection. He died at his Johannesburg home and Zuma said he would be accorded a full state funeral.
In Washington, President Obama called him one of the "most influential, courageous and profoundly good" people to ever have lived.
"He achieved more than could be expected of any man," an emotional Obama said, in remarks from the White House, adding: "He belongs to the ages."
Obama ordered U.S. flags to be lowered immediately to half staff until Monday evening in tribute to Mandela.
Meanwhile, South Africans gathered to celebrate Mandela's life and mourn his death. Outside the Soweto home where he once lived, some residents sang and danced while others gathered outside his Johannesburg home.
Mandela, who once said, "the struggle is my life," was a beloved hero of both South Africa and the world itself. His face was instantly recognizable in virtually any country, his story famous enough that he was portrayed in movies at least four times - by Morgan Freeman ("Invictus"), Sidney Poitier ("Mandela and de Klerk"), Danny Glover ("Mandela") and Dennis Haysbert ("Goodbye Bafana").