(UPDATED 12/05/2013) Nelson Mandela, who emerged from three decades in prison as a living martyr in the battle against apartheid to become the first Black president of South Africa, died Dec. 5 in South Africa. He was 95 years old.

As news of the death of the father of modern-day South Africa, the deeply admired icon of the anti-apartheid movement and the most revered political prisoner of the 20th century flashed around the globe, world leaders reacted quickly with condolences and tributes to the man known as Madiba for his graceful, but assertive leadership and noble, but humble bearing.

His funeral is scheduled to be conducted after a 10-day period of national mourning in South Africa.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” South African President Jacob Zuma said in a lengthy and somber address Dec. 5 minutes after Mandela died in his sleep at midnight South Africa-time.

Most of the tributes cited how, in a single term as president, Mandela lead the nation’s peaceful transition to Black rule from first-British and then Afrikaans domination with dignity and a lack of bitterness toward his former oppressors.

He died at his home in Johannesburg after months of battling respiratory illness. A cause of death was not announced.

“He achieved more than can be expected of any one man,” President Obama said. The president who met Mandela only once– as a senator from Illinois– praised the African leader as the symbol of the fight for freedom and dignity throughout the world.

Mandela now “belongs to the ages,” Obama said at the White House within an hour of the announcement of Mandela’s death.

In his remarks Obama noted that he has studied Mandela’s writings throughout his career in government and that his first political speech concerned apartheid in South Africa.

“I cannot imagine my own life without Mandela’s example,” said the nation’s first African-American president.

“Through his fierce urgency and unbending will, Madiba transformed South Africa and all of us,” he said. “His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Mandela “a giant of justice” who “touched our lives in a deeply personal way.”

For Kweisi Mfume, chairman of Morgan State University’s Board of Regents and former congressman, Mandela’s passing was a personal loss. “We grew to be good friends. As a city councilman I used to lead annual protests every Christmas Eve in front of City Hall to call for an end to apartheid and for the city to divest from those entities that supported apartheid,” he told the AFRO.

Mandela got wind of the protests and wrote from Robben Island that he’d been following the story.

“He had one line of advice for me, ‘Don’t give up,’” Mfume said noting that it was a message the former congressman found ironic considering the situation.

“I should have been writing that message to him.”

When Mandela was freed from prison, he attended the inauguration of President Clinton as the guest of then-congressman Mfume, and they began a friendship that continued throughout the years.

“I visited him in Johannesburg and then returned for his inauguration as president,” Mfume said as part of the U.S. delegation that included retired Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, and then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

“We generally liked each other,” Mfume said. “He treated me like a son.”

Mfume went on to say that “one of the great figures of history has exited this stage of life. As a fighter for justice, he served as an inspiration for presidents, popes and common man, offering the hope that good would out rule evil.”

Former President George W. Bush said that he and former first lady Laura Bush “join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

“President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example,” Bush said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the world had “lost a leader who advanced the cause of equality and human rights.”

He emerged from prison —first on Robben Island and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison–in 1990 after serving 27 years of a life sentence for treason to become president of the African National Congress. He was released following an intense international lobbying campaign to free him during a period of increasing political and ethnic strife in South Africa.

Although he was denounced as a terrorist and communist by his enemies, he led negotiations with then-South Africa President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and set multiracial elections in 1994. He was elected president in 1994 and served a single term, until 1999.

As president he focused on healing a nation that was deeply divided racially, launched the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ease ethnic tensions, encouraged land reform in South Africa and initiated measures to battle poverty and improve health care, zeroing in on AIDS.

He was also regarded as a global elder statesman, mediating between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and was the recipient of scores of international awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin.