By Ed Cropley and Pascal Fletcher
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela died aged 95 at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man hailed by global leaders as a moral giant.
Although Mandela had been frail and ailing for nearly a year, Zuma's announcement late on Thursday of the death of the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate shook South Africa.
Tributes began flooding in almost immediately for a man who was an iconic global symbol of struggle against injustice and of racial reconciliation.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the world had lost "one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth".
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Mandela "a hero of our time" and said "a great light has gone out in the world".
Ordinary South Africans were in shock. "It feels like it's my father who has died. He was such a good man, who had good values the nation could look up to. He was a role model unlike our leaders of today," said Annah Khokhozela, 37, a nanny, speaking in Johannesburg
A somber Zuma made a national broadcast to announce the death of South Africa's first black president, who emerged from 27 years in apartheid prisons to help guide Africa's biggest economy through bloodshed and turmoil to democracy.
"Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed," Zuma said in the nationally televised address.
"Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love," he added.
"GIANT FOR JUSTICE"
Mandela would receive a full state funeral, Zuma said, ordering flags to be flown at half mast.
The U.N. Security Council was in session when the ambassadors received the news of Mandela's death. They stopped their meeting and stood for a minute's silence.
"Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters. "Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity."
Obama, the first black American president, described Mandela as an inspiration: "Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him," he said in a televised address at the White House shortly after the announcement of Mandela's death.
"A free South Africa at peace with itself - that's an example to the world, and that's Madiba's legacy to the nation he loved.
Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority apartheid government - a struggle that gave the 20th century one of its most respected and loved figures.
He was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid in 1960, but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country's white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later.
He was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 and retired in 1999.
WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS POLITICAL PRISONER
South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party said the country and the world had lost "a colossus".
"His life gives us the courage to push forward for development and progress towards ending hunger and poverty," it said in a statement.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honor he shared with F.W. de Klerk, the white Afrikaner leader who released from jail arguably the world's most famous political prisoner.
As president, Mandela faced the monumental task of forging a new nation from the deep racial injustices left over from the apartheid era, making reconciliation the theme of his time in office.
The hallmark of Mandela's mission was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which probed apartheid crimes on both sides of the struggle and tried to heal the country's wounds. It also provided a model for other countries torn by civil strife.
In 1999, Mandela handed over power to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy - a rare voluntary departure from power cited as an example to African leaders.
In retirement, he shifted his energies to battling South Africa's AIDS crisis, a struggle that became personal when he lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005.
Mandela's last major appearance on the global stage came in 2010 when he attended the championship match of the soccer World Cup, where he received a thunderous ovation from the 90,000 at the stadium in Soweto, the neighborhood in which he cut his teeth as a resistance leader.
Charged with capital offences in the infamous 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination."
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick, Mark Felsenthal, and Jeff Mason, Michele Nichols in New York, Stella Mapenzauswa and Peroshni Govender in Johannesburg; Writing by Ed Cropley and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Peter Graff)