Former South African leader Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95, the country's president, Jacob Zuma, said last night.
In a televised address, Mr Zuma said: "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.
"What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."
Mr Zuma said: "Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation has departed.
"He is now resting. He is now at peace.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."
Mr Zuma said all of South Africa's thoughts were with Mr Mandela's family, friends and those who fought alongside him during his struggle for equality.
"Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who more than any other came to embody their sense of a common nation," he said from Pretoria.
"Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own and who saw his cause as their cause.
"This is the moment of our deepest sorrow. Our nation has lost his greatest son. Yet what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human – we saw in him what we seek in ourselves and in him we saw so much of ourselves."
Mr Zuma said the man known as Madiba brought South Africa together and would be afforded a state funeral. South African flags would be lowered to half mast from tomorrow until the funeral, he said.
"As we gather to pay our last respects, let us conduct ourselves with the dignity and respect that Madiba personified," he said.
"Let us be mindful of his wishes and the wishes of his family as we gather wherever we are in the country and wherever we are in the world.
"Let us recall the values for which Madiba fought.
"Let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another."
Mr Zuma finished his address by saying simply: "We will always love you Madiba. May your soul rest in peace. God bless Africa."
Mr Mandela was the country's first black president and is known throughout the world for his anti-apartheid stance and led the nation's transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison.
The statesman had been receiving medical care for a lung infection at his home, where hundreds of reporters tonight gathered ahead of rumours of his ill-health and where he was staying following a three-month hospital stay.
Since his hospital release, the South African presidency described Mr Mandela's condition as critical but stable, although rumours were this week circulated that he was on his death bed.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.