And just like that the news broke … President Jacob Zuma made the announcement from the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Thursday night. He said Mandela passed away at 20:50, on the evening of 5 December 2013 in his Houghton home surrounded by his wife, Graça Machel and members of his family.
"He is now rested, he is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son, our people have lost a father. But though we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of the profound and enduring loss.” Mr Zuma said, as huge crowds grew outside the former leader's home. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family."
Zuma said Mandela would have a state funeral and that the flags would fly half-mast from December 6 until after the funeral.
South Africans in mourning
President Jacob Zuma
"His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.
His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude.
They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free."
Bishop Desmond Tutu
"He was amazing in his selfless altruism for others, recognizing -- just as did a Mahatma Gandhi or a Dalai Lama -- that a true leader exists not for self-aggrandizement but for the sake of those he or she is leading."
Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance
"Through his humility, moral conviction and bold leadership, Madiba gave us a gift for which we, and successive generations will be forever grateful. He gave us his vision of a free and inclusive South Africa and the unwavering belief that such a society could be achieved in his lifetime. He was, quite simply, the greatest South African that ever lived. We shall never see his like again. Let all South Africans join hands as we mourn Madiba’s passing and celebrate his life. Let us re-affirm his values and recapture his spirit in all we do."
Dr Mamphela Ramphele, leader of Agang SA
“Madiba symbolised the exemplary values that all good people the world over hold dear – integrity, commitment to equality and the well-being of all people irrespective of race, faith, geographic location or position ... My personal sadness at losing a father figure and a friend is amplified by the outpouring of grief from people around the world."
NEHAWU (National Education Health & Allied Workers Union)
"The world is poorer today after the departure of this moral giant and a political titan. Tata Madiba will remain a global icon and a symbol of hope for the oppressed. His prominence transcended class, race and nationality. He stood tall as a freedom fighter and a moral leader of unique abilities.
His name will forever live on, in the history of Africa and the world and will continue to represent freedom, equality and social justice. We now challenge the next generation to rise to the arduous challenge of preserving his legacy and leading the nation forward to a better future.
We lower our banners and salute this revolutionary freedom fighter. He loved freedom. He loved his people. He loved life."
Reactions pour in from around the world
US President Barack Obama
"Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us," Mr Obama said. "His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better."
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron
"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."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
"Only because of such a great man like Nelson Mandela is it possible that particular people in Africa and elsewhere are able to enjoy freedom and human dignity. We have to learn the wisdom and determinations and commitment of Mr Mandela to make this world better for all."
The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation
"It is with the deepest regret that we have learned of the passing of our founder, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela - Madiba. The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa will shortly make further official announcements.
We want to express our sadness at this time. No words can adequately describe this enormous loss to our nation and to the world.
We give thanks for his life, his leadership, his devotion to humanity and humanitarian causes. We salute our friend, colleague and comrade and thank him for his sacrifices for our freedom. The three charitable organisations that he created dedicate ourselves to continue promoting his extraordinay legacy.
Hamba Kahle Madiba"
"We have lost one of the true giants of the past century. But in our loss is the realization that thanks to him, we have all gained something. For in bringing down the evil of apartheid, Mandela raised us up; his wisdom, patience, compassion and insistence on reconciliation make us aspire to be better people. In his determination to break from the chains of the past, he allowed us all to join him as the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls"
Former US President Bill Clinton
"Nelson Mandela taught us so much about so many things. Perhaps the greatest lesson, especially for young people, is that, while bad things do happen to good people, we still have the freedom and responsibility to decide how to respond to injustice, cruelty and violence and how they will affect our spirits, hearts and minds."
Former US President Jimmy Carter
"Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. The people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have lost a great leader. His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies. In recent years, I was gratified to be able to work with him through The Elders to encourage resolution of conflicts and advance social justice and human rights in many nations. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family at this difficult time."
By Jenni McCann