Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid leader, is seen Feb. 8, 1991, during a press conference one year after his release from jail. / TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Nelson Mandela, whose successful struggle against South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation and discrimination made him a global symbol for the cause of human rights and earned him the Nobel Prize, died Thursday. He was 95.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela's death at a news conference, saying, "We've lost our greatest son." Mandela had been in failing health for months.
Mandela spent 27 years in South African prisons before his release in 1990. He negotiated with the nation's white leaders toward establishing democracy and was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994, serving one term.
"He probably will be remembered both inside and outside South Africa as a political saint," said Michael Parks, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his coverage of Mandela and South Africa's struggles.
"He had flaws that he had to overcome. He had a temper he had to deal with. He had to deal with what was going to be life imprisonment. Not all his decisions were great decisions, but what political leader's are?" Parks said.
As a young man, Mandela worked as a lawyer and political activist to dismantle white minority rule under which blacks were denied political rights and basic freedoms. He began by emulating the non-violent methods of India's Mahatma Gandhi. But a turn to violence as the leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress that included a bombing campaign against government targets led to his imprisonment for more than a quarter-century.
A worldwide campaign against apartheid pressured the regime into releasing Mandela in 1990 at age 71. He vowed to seek peace and reconciliation with South Africa's whites - but only if blacks received full rights as citizens.
"He probably will be remembered both inside and outside South Africa as a political saint."
- Michael Parks, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times
Amid tense negotiations with the government and the threat of violence on all sides, Mandela emerged as a leader who guided South Africa to a new democratic government guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens. Four years later, Mandela became his nation's first black president.
Mandela's charisma, stoic optimism and conciliation toward adversaries and oppressors established him as one of the world's most recognizable statesmen of the 20th century and a hero of South African democracy.
"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy," Mandela once said. "Then he becomes your partner."
Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with South Africa's president at the time, Frederik Willem de Klerk, for working together to dismantle apartheid.