JOHANNESBURG — South Africans flocked to the Johannesburg home of Nelson Mandela to mourn his death and pay tribute to a leader who led the nation out of racial discord by encouraging reconciliation.
About 400 people gathered Friday outside Mandela's home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, with some singing and holding up portraits of the nation's first black president.
Mandela, who had been critically ill following a lung infection, died peacefully at 8:50 p.m. local time Thursday at the age of 95, surrounded by his family, President Jacob Zuma said.
"He really is such an icon for the nation," Rachael Shear, 16, said in an interview after coming to pay her respects with her 13-year-old sister Liat. "He's someone that we're not going to see again in our lifetime. From what I learned at school, the difference he made to South Africa, taking us out of our apartheid state to where we are today, South Africa wouldn't be as it is unless we had him."
Mandela was jailed for 27 years for fighting against white minority rule. He was released in 1990 and became president after the first multiracial elections four years later.
Neighbors and well-wishers began gathering since Thursday night at Mandela's Houghton home and his former residence in Soweto, a township southwest of Johannesburg. Zuma addressed the nation in a live TV broadcast Thursday night to announce Mandela's death.
The mood among those who came to pay their respects was celebratory of Mandela's life, with many singing freedom songs, clapping their hands and stamping their feet. A group of kindergarten children outside Mandela's former home in Soweto held up posters and sang the national anthem.
"We are grateful for what he has done for us," Ntsiki Mthembu, who said she's older than 60, said in an interview outside Mandela's former Soweto home in Vilakazi street, which is now a museum. "Now he must rest in peace. It's sad, but he lived his life to the fullest and we are all free."