Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday night. He was 95. The South African president, Jacob Zuma, announced Mr Mandela’s death. Mr Mandela had long said he wanted a quiet exit, but the time he spent in a Pretoria hospital this summer was a clamour of quarrelling family, hungry news media, spotlight-seeking politicians and a national outpouring of affection and loss. The vigil eclipsed a visit by President Obama, who paid homage to Mr Mandela but decided not to intrude on the privacy of a dying man he considered his hero.
Mr Mandela ultimately died at home at 8:50 p.m. local time, and he will be buried according to his wishes in the village of Qunu, where he grew up. The exhumed remains of three of his children were reinterred there in early July under a court order, resolving a family squabble that had played out in the news media. Mr Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.
And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.
The explanation for his absence of rancour, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire. When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — His answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.
Except for a youthful flirtation with Black Nationalism, he seemed to have genuinely transcended the racial passions that tore at his country. Some who worked with him said this apparent magnanimity came easily to him because he always regarded himself as superior to his persecutors. In his five years as president, Mr. Mandela, though still a sainted figure abroad, lost some lustre at home as he strained to hold together a divided populace and to turn a fractious liberation movement into a credible government. Some blacks — including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s former wife, who cultivated a following among the most disaffected blacks — complained that he had moved too slowly to narrow the vast gulf between the impoverished black majority and the more prosperous white minority. Some whites said he had failed to control crime, corruption and cronyism. Some blacks deserted government to make money; some whites emigrated, taking capital and knowledge with them.
Undoubtedly Mr. Mandela had become less attentive to the details of governing, turning over the daily responsibilities to the deputy who would succeed him in 1999, Thabo Mbeki.
But few among his countrymen doubted that without his patriarchal authority and political shrewdness, South Africa might well have descended into civil war long before it reached its imperfect state of democracy. After leaving the presidency, Mr. Mandela brought that moral stature to bear elsewhere around the continent, as a peace broker and champion of greater outside investment.