NELSON Mandela, South Africa's first black president and the man widely seen as the architect of a peaceful transition to democracy after three centuries of apartheid rule, has died at his home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
He was 95.
Mr Mandela had been receiving home-based intensive care after being discharged from hospital in September.
The South African president Jacob Zuma confirmed news of his death in a statement.
Mr Zuma said Mr Mandela had "departed" and was at peace.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son," Mr Zuma said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Mr Mandela tweeting: "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half mast.''
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "The world has lost the global hero of our age. Nelson Mandela showed us the true meaning of courage, hope, and reconciliation."
Mr Mandela had been discharged at the start of September after spending 87 days in hospital - his fourth admission since December 2012 - and had remained in a "critical and at times unstable" condition while receiving intensive care at his home.
He had been vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his imprisonment under apartheid. But over the last year his condition had significantly worsened with a recurring lung infection the latest of his ailments.
His humanitarian legacy in 20th century history remains unrivalled. Mr Mandela practically changed the fabric of South African politics after being freed by the apartheid government in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment.
He later became South Africa's first black president after the country's first democratic elections in 1994, serving one term until 1999.
The years that followed were marked by a seemingly endless succession of visits to him by world leaders and other prominent figures in which his unique status on the global stage was honoured.
But as age took its toll, Mr Mandela's public appearances dwindled, and he had been rarely seen since the South Africa-hosted football World Cup of 2010.
News of his death brought the inevitable end to months of speculation over his deteriorating health with scenes that were at times criticised for their seeming lack of grace.
South Africa's first black president had been in the Mediclinic heart hospital in Pretoria where he had lain for 12 weeks after he being admitted on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.
With his life hanging by a thread, rumours circulated, global news teams combed for clues and South Africans braced themselves for the inevitable end, with crowds laying flowers outside the hospital.
But at the start of September things changed unexpectedly after the country watched Mr Mandela discharged in an ambulance marked "paramedical intensive care" make the 31-mile journey from Pretoria back to Houghton where a makeshift clinic had been set up in Mr Mandela's house allow the former president to receive similar levels of treatment.
These scenes were further played out against a backdrop of an odd internal dispute in the Mandela family.
In July sixteen relatives won a court case against the former president's eldest grandson, Mandla, ensuring that the bones of Mandela's three late children were dug up and moved to the village of Qunu - where Mandela himself has said he wants to be buried.
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