Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities and led his continent into a new era, has died at age 95.

South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed the news:

"He is now resting. He is now at peace," Zuma said. "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."

Born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in Transkei, South Africa, the civil rights activist would become the linchpin in South Africans' move to end the country's notorious apartheid regime. The impact of his efforts -- to reconcile generosity with pragmatism and to find the common ground between humanity’s higher values and his own aspiration to power, as journalist John Carlin once described them -- would ultimately reach well beyond South Africa’s borders, and earn him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Prior to doing so, however, Mandela earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare, during which time he was elected onto the Student's Representative Council and suspended from college for joining in a protest boycott.

Mandela was qualified in law in 1942, an accomplishment that would ultimately help him make the kind of contribution to the freedom struggle of his people that he'd reportedly dreamed about since hearing stories of valor by his forebears during the wars of resistance in defense of their land.

That law degree allowed Mandela to practice law and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo.

But by Dec. 5, 1955, he would be on the other side of the law following a country-wide sweep by police that would put him and 155 other activists on trial for treason. The case, known as the 1956 Treason Trial, dragged on until the last 28 accused, including Mandela, were acquitted on March 29, 1961.

During the trial, on June 14, 1958, Nelson Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, a social worker. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996.

Rising through the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC), initially by way of the organization’s youth wing, which he helped establish in 1944, Mandela was ultimately asked to lead the armed struggle and help form Umkhonto weSizwe ("Spear of the Nation").

On Jan. 11, 1962, using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Mandela left South Africa secretly. He traveled the continent and abroad to gain support for the armed struggle. Before returning to South Africa in July 1962, Mandela also received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia.

His training would hardly be put to use, however.

In 1964, alongside eight members of the ANC and its armed wing, Mandela stood trial for plotting to overthrow the government by way of violent acts. The following year he was sentenced to life in prison, a term he served until Feb. 11, 1990.

The would-be South African president spent 18 of his 27 prison years on Robben Island confined to a small cell with the floor for a bed and a bucket for a toilet. During his imprisonment, Mandela was forced to do hard labor in a quarry and was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes.

Jack Swart, who served as Mandela's chef when he was moved to a private house inside the Victor Verster prison compound in 1988, recalled encounters with Mandela on Robben Island, in an interview for PBS Frontline's "The Long Walk Of Nelson Mandela," documentary:

...We got the order that while they worked in the quarries, we had to keep time on our watches ... of what their resting periods were, because they had to work. [A prisoner] was only allowed to rest or stop working if he wanted to go to the toilet and we had to keep note, and if one, for example, rested too much, then he was charged, and then Mandela was always the man who went to represent them ... they always went to him when there were problems, asked him for advice ... He was always the person, the central person. When they broke for lunch also, they always went to sit with him and talk to him. He was the person who sort of went to defend them when they were charged with a misdemeanor in prison.

As Swart noted, those years in prison would prove to be transformative, leading Mandela to become the most significant black leader in South Africa and the country's first black president in 1994, the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election in South Africa.

During his presidency, from 1994 until June 1999, Mandela used the nation's enthusiasm for sports as a pivot point to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks, encouraging black South Africans to support the once-hated national rugby team.

Actor Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Mandela in the 2009 film "Invictus," based on events leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is said to offer a glimpse of the leader's legendary sense of humor, which has also been described alongside his charisma and a notable lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment.

In addition to his continued fight for the civil rights of his people -- including the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice arm of Mandela’s democratically elected government and a new constitution, which he signed into law in 1996, establishing a central government based on majority rule that would guarantee the rights of minorities -- Mandela worked to protect South Africa's economy throughout his presidency. In 1994, he established the Reconstruction and Development Plan through which the South African government funded the creation of jobs, housing and basic healthcare.

After his health began to fail -- he was hospitalized in February 2012 for a long-standing stomach ailment -- Mandela returned to the rural community where he was born.

Mandela’s death comes months afer his 95th birthday on July 18, which his foundation, various charities and businesses vowed to celebrate with a nationwide day of service that includes painting schools, handing out food and books, and running a 41-mile relay marathon in the spirit of Mandela's 67 years of activism and public work.

Nelson Mandela is survived by his wife, Graca Machel, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and three daughters Pumla Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindziswa Mandela.

Zuma has ordered that all flags in the nation be flown at half staff from Friday till Mandela's funeral.

"What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human," Zuma said in his address. "We saw in him what we seek in ourselves."

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  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Nelson Mandela, a senior member of the African National Congress, in prison on Robben Island.

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    circa 1964: Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress (left) in discussion with C Andrews, a Cape Town teacher. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    A file photo dated 1961 of South African anti-apartheid leader and member of the African National Congress (ANC) Nelson Mandela. (Photo credit should read STF/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    File photo of African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela and his then-wife Winnie at their wedding in 1957. This copy was taken from the family album the original was by Alf Khumalo. (Photo credit should read ALF KHUMALO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    JOHANNESBURG - SOUTH AFRICA: Nelson Mandela (3rd from right), leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Patrick Molaoa and Robert Resha charged with treason by the South-African Union walked to the room where their trial was being held, Drill Hall, Johannesburg, South Africa.(Photo by API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress (ANC), adopts a boxing pose, wearing shorts, t-shirt and boxing gloves, circa 1950. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    (FILES) Zinzi Mandela (c), daughter of jailed-for-life African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela, holds a placard, 29 August 1985 at the campus of the Cape Town University as she and other black and white students stage a demonstration requesting the release of ANC activists. At right, an other student holds a picture of Mandela. (Photo credit should read GIDEON MENDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Winnie Mandela (C), leaves the Palace of Justice in Pretoria 16 June 1964 with her fist clenched, after the verdict of the Rivonia Trial was given, sentencing eight men, including her husband anti-apartheid leader and member of the African National Congress (ANC) Nelson Mandela, to life imprisonment. The men were charged with conspiracy, sabotage and treason. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    African women demonstrate in front of the Law Courts in Pretoria, 16 June 1964, after the verdict of the Rivonia trial, in which eight men, among them anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. The eight men were accused of conspiracy, sabotage and treason. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Eight men, among them anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia trial leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria 16 June 1964 with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car. The eight men were accused of conspiracy, sabotage and treason. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela studies a giant card to her then-husband African National Congress (ANC) Nelson Mandela at his 70th birthday held in Johannesburg 18 July 1988. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela addresses the crowd standing behind a pile of cards to her then-husband South African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela at his 70th birthday held in Johannesburg 18 July 1988. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela with her grandson Ntsika addresses at her then-husband jailed African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday held in Johannesburg 18 July 1988. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela studies messages to her then-husband South African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela at his 70th birthday held in Johannesburg 18 July 1988. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Zinzi Mandela, daughter of jailed-for-life anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, wearing 16 July 1988 in Soweto boxing gloves given to her father by the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson as a present for his 70th birthday. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Crowds of people carrying cross & ANC banner w. pix. of Mandela at Uitenhage shootings memorial service (rally) at Kwanobuhle stadium. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    BRANDFORT, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 26: Winnie Mandela (L), wife of ANC vice-president Nelson Mandela, arrives at the town of Brandfort, 26 March 1986, where she has been banished for nine years. Winnie Mandela arrived with boxes of toys for local children from a top west German diplomat. (Photo credit should read GIDEON MENDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    (FILES) Winnie Mandela (l), wife of jailed-for-life anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, raises a clenched fist 27July 1987 during the funeral of Sello Motau, senior member of the 'Umkhonto We Sizwe' (Spear of the Nation), the ANC military wing, who was gunned down in Swaziland 09 July 1987. At Winnie's left, Sello Motau's mother. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/GettyImages)

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    Black youths w. commemorative t-shirts (incl. release Mandela) bearing ANC flag at funeral for anti-apartheid unrest victims in Alexandra township. (Photo by Selwyn Tait//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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    Rev. Allan Boesak (C) in crush of press, at entrance to Victor Verster Prison, re impending release of ANC ldr. Nelson Mandela. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Press waiting at entrance to Victor Verster Prison for arrival of Winnie Mandela, re impending release of her husband ANC ldr. Nelson. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    A young man holds a local newspaper announcing that ANC is unbanned, on February 02, 1990 in Cape Town during a demonstration of anti-Apartheid marchers demanding the release of all the political prisoners in South Africa, in which anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela. (Photo credit should read RASHID LOMBARD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Winnie Mandela in crush of reporters, arriving at Victor Verster Prison to see her husband ANC ldr. Nelson, re his impending release. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    (Multi-racial) crowd of ANC supporters demonstrating for release of imprisoned African Natl. Cong. ldr. Nelson Mandela. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Conservative Party (pro-apartheid) supporters at right-wing rally, w. KP & anti-(Pres.) F.W. (de Klerk) & ANC ldr. Mandela banners. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    ANC ldr. Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie raising fists upon his release from Victor Verster prison after 27 yrs. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    ANC ldr. Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie raising fists upon his release from Victor Verster prison after 27 yrs. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    SOUTH AFRICA - CIRCA 1990: Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa in 1990 - The leader NELSON MANDELAduring the meeting of African National Congress (ANC) after his liberation. (Photo by Lily FRANEY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    ANC ldr. Nelson & Winnie Mandela (prob.) at ANC rally in Capetown, S. Africa. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    ANC ldr. Nelson Mandela poised against ANC flag backdrop, at ANC rally in Capetown, S. Africa. (Photo by William F. Campbell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (L) and his then-wife Winnie raise their fists 11 February 1990 in Paarl to salute cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from Victor Verster prison. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela delivers his first public speech in Cape Town, 11 February 1990, since his release from jail. He urged white South Africans to join ANC in working for a new South Africa. At right, Mandela's wife Winnie Mandela. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHALDHLA/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela rides in car through cheering fans as exiting from Victor Verster prison upon his release, 11 February 1990. (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    A jubilant Sowetan holds up 11 February 1990 in Soweto a newspaper announcing the release of anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, at a mass ANC rally. South African President de Klerk lifted 02 February the 30-year-old ban on the ANC and the South African Communikst Party, and 11 February, Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Vester prison, near Cape Town, after 26 year since he was sentenced to life imprisonment. (Photo credit should read TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Members of nea-fascist All White Brotherhood protest against Frederik de Klerk's reforms and imminent release from jail of anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela during a rally in Pretoria, 10 February 1990. (Photo credit should read TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu reacts at announcement of the freedom of the anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, on February 10, 1990 at his home in Soweto. (Photo credit should read TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Women and children dance and sing on road near Nelson Mandela's Soweto home, 10 February 1990, shortly after hearing that African National Congress leader is to be freed from jail. Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in jail. (Photo credit should read TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Freed anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (L) and his wife Winnie stroll, 12 February 1990, in the garden of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's residence in Cape Town, one day after the release from jail of Nelson Mandela. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela smiles as he poses during a photo session after his first press conference since his release from jail, 12 February 1990 in Cape Town. AFP PHOTO WALTER DHLADHLA (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela shown in a file photo dated 12 February 1990 posing for photographers in Cape Town during a photo session after his first press conference after his liberation from jail. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Young boys try to see anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela at Orlando soccer stadium 12 February 1990 whilst thousands of Sowetans wait for him. Mandela arrived in Johannesburg this evening but has not been to Soweto yet. (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Young boys try to see anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela at Orlando soccer stadium 12 February 1990 whilst thousands of Sowetans wait for him. Mandela arrived in Johannesburg this evening but has not been to Soweto yet. (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Jubilant inhabitants of Soweto attend a mass african National Congress (ANC) rally to be addressed by freed anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela at Orlando stadium in Soweto, 12 February 1990. It's the first rally Nelson Mandela is holding since his release from jail, 11 February 1990. The rally was originaly called for to celebrate the unbanning of the ANC but turned out to be a celebration for the release from jail of Nelson Mandela. (Photo credit should read PHILIP LITTLETON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    (FILES) African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (2nd-L), together with South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (L), Mandela's then-wife Winnie (C), Walter Sisulu, ANC secretary-general and former Robben Island prison inmate (2nd-R), and Sisulu's wife Albertina, walk in this file photo taken 12 February 1990 in the garden of Tutu's residence in Cape Town, one day after Mandela's release from jail. (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA: Young boys try to see ANC President Nelson Mandela at Orlando soccer stadium 12 February 1990 whilst thousands of Sowetans wait for him. Mandela arrived in Johannesburg this evening but has not been to Soweto yet. (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela smiles and clenches his fist as he poses during a photo session after his first press conference since his release from jail, 12 February 1990 in Cape Town. AFP PHOTO WALTER DHLADHLA (Photo credit should read WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    People march in Havana, 15 February 1990, to celebrate the liberation of South African anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in jail, was freed 10 February 1990. (Photo credit should read RAFAEL PEREZ/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA: Enthusiastic supporters wait behind a banner commending the release of ANC leader Nelson Mandela outside Mandela's Soweto home 14 February 1990 leaning against a wall fence while Nelson Mandela was being interviewed. (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (L) and former political prisonner Andrew Mlangeni (R) listen to Cyril Ramaphosa of the Reception Committee on how to disperse the large crowd which had gathered outside his Soweto house, febrary 13th. (Photo credit should read PHILIP LITTLETON/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie play with their grandchild Bambata at their Soweto home 21 February 1990. After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. AFP PHOTO WALTER DHLADHLA (Photo credit should read WALTER DHALDHLA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

    Jubilant inhabitants of Soweto find room where they can in and on a bus to reach Orlando stadium in Soweto, 12 February 1990, to attend a mass African National Congress (ANC) rally to be addressed by freed anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela. It's the first rally Nelson Mandela is holding since his release from jail, 11 February 1990. The rally was originaly called for to celebrate the unbanning of the ANC but turned out to be a celebration for the release from jail of Nelson Mandela. (Photo credit should read TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/GettyImages)