NBC News is reporting that South African civil rights icon Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. Known throughout the globe for his role in dismantling the South African apartheid regime, Mandela had been treated for a persistent lung infection earlier this year, and in recent days had retreated to his Johannesburg home. "He is now resting," South African President Jacob Zuma said. "He is now at peace."
"It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Mandela began as an activist with the African National Congress, arranging general strikes and "Defiance Campaigns" in protest of the policies of apartheid. After a string of arrests and increasingly violent police crackdowns, Mandela was arrested in 1963 on charges of sabotage, and for plotting the violent overthrow of the government. At his trial, Mandela admitted to sabotage and some acts of violence, but insisted it was towards the goal of a free and equitable society. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities," Mandela told the court. "It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Amid fears of a Communist uprising, he was sentenced to life in prison.
"So long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him."
As global outrage over Apartheid grew, Mandela gained global prominence as a political prisoner, kept for 18 years in an 8-by-7-foot cell in South Africa's Robben Island prison. In 1990, Mandela was released and immediately became one of the country's most powerful political figures. Shortly after his release, he gave a speech to a crowd of more than 100,000 at Johannesburg's Soccer City, calling for an end to the politics of racial supremacy which had defined the nation. "We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa." In 1994, he was elected president of South Africa, serving until he withdrew from politics in 1999.
In the wake of his death, world leaders have lined up to mourn Mandela. In a speech to the nation, South African President Zuma called upon South Africans to celebrate Mandela's life by renewing their commitment to social justice. "Let us recall the values for which Madiba fought," Zuma said, using Mandela's colloquial nickname. "Let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another."
US President Barack Obama also commented on Mandela's passing in a public address. "My first political action was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings," Obama said. "So long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him."