Nelson Mandela, whose anti-apartheid crusade made him a hero and an icon in his home country of South Africa, as well as its first black president, died Thursday at 95.

Mandela, who emerged in 1990 from a 27-year jail term to assume the nation’s top office four years later with the backing of the African National Congress, had been suffering from a lung infection and spent his last days at home near Johannesburg, according to the BBC.

South African President Jacob Zuma broke the news in a televised address Thursday, calling Mandela his country’s “greatest son” and paying tribute to the struggles Mandela and his family endured for the greater good. President Obama also weighed in, as The New York Times reported that evening:

Mr. Mandela, who was 95, served just one term as South Africa’s president and had not been seen in public since 2010, when the nation hosted the soccer World Cup. But his decades in prison and his insistence on forgiveness over vengeance made him a potent symbol of the struggle to end this country’s brutally codified system of racial domination, and of the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts.

Years after he retreated from public life, his name still resonated as an emblem of his effort to transcend decades of racial division and create what South Africans called a Rainbow Nation.

“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that everyone should aspire to,” a grim-faced President Obama said Thursday evening, describing Mr. Mandela as an “influential, courageous and profoundly good” man who inspired millions — including himself — to a spirit of reconciliation.

Watch the BBC’s live coverage of Mandela’s life and legacy here.

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