JOHANNESBURG — As the news of Nelson Mandela’s death spread across South Africa, residents of Soweto gathered in the streets near the house where he once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his colossal life.
The people of South Africa reacted today with deep sadness at the loss of a man considered by many to be the father of the nation, while mourners said it was also a time to celebrate the achievements of the anti-apartheid leader who emerged from prison to become South Africa’s first black president.
President Jacob Zuma, dressed in black, announced the news of Mandela’s death last night on television, saying the 95-year-old known affectionately by his clan name “Madiba” had died “peacefully” around 8:50 p.m. while in the company of his family.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
The president said all national flags would be lowered to half-staff from today until after a state funeral.
Some people gathered with candles as media swarmed outside the Johannesburg home where Mandela had been receiving medical care in past months. About 40 people celebrated Mandela’s life by dancing and singing outside his former home on Vilakazi Street in the Soweto area of Johannesburg.
“I’m disappointed. I’m sad,” said Thumelo Madikwe, a 29-year-old accountant. “But at the same time, he had his part in life, and he did it very well. It’s fine that he goes. He was old.”
Big gatherings of mourners were expected in coming days as the country prepares a formal farewell for a man who helped guide the country from racial conflict to all-race elections in 1994.
“He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to empathize with others,” retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement. “He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.”