"OUR nation has lost a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and the hope of millions; here and abroad."

These were the words of the African National Congress early on Friday after President Jacob Zuma announced the death of former president Nelson Mandela, 95, just before midnight on Thursday.

"In the life of every nation, there arise men who leave an indelible and eternal stamp on the history of their peoples; men who are both products and makers of history. And when they pass they leave a vision of a new and better life and the tools with which to win and build it," the ruling party said in a statement issued by the secretary-general’s office.

"Madiba loved South Africa. We recall the strength of his fist punching the air as he stepped out of prison after 27 years; and his sternness during the negotiations for the freedom of our beloved country. We celebrate his ever-present smile, the cheerful Madiba jive, his love for children and great respect for the women of this country.

"The large African baobab, who loved Africa as much as he loved South Africa, has fallen. Its trunk and seeds will nourish the earth for decades to come."

The ANC said Mandela had from early in his life recognised the burden of colonial and racial oppression and exploitation.

He joined the ANC in 1942, "convinced by the belief his wise tutor, Walter Sisulu, had in the ANC as the means to effect change in South Africa. As he said, ‘Sometimes one can judge an organisation by the people who belong to it, and I knew that I would be proud to belong to any organisation of which Walter was a member.’

"He loved the ANC. Hence his frequent words that upon his death he would join ‘the nearest branch of the ANC in heaven."

The ANC paid tribute to Mandela’s participation in the ANC and the South African Communist Party. "His was a choice to not only be a product but also the maker of his and his people’s history."

When Mandela became president in a new democratic South Africa, "he worked tirelessly for the ANC and a free South Africa. He hated racism and bigotry; sought a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society where all are equal. As he said while in prison, ‘Ours is not to ask for equality on a lower scale; ours is to fight to win on an equal but higher level.’

"His life gives us the courage to push forward for development and progress towards ending hunger and poverty. As we said of him while still alive, and we say so now, ‘We have you, Madiba, as our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way. We will not get lost.’"

The ANC extended its condolences to the Mandela family, his friends in South Africa and across the world, and to the people of South Africa.

"He lives in each and every one of you and in your homes, because he gave of himself to all of us," the party said.

"Let us celebrate the gift of his life from this moment on. Let us honour his memory in a dignified way as his leadership and stature deserves. Let us participate in all the activities organised in his honour in a disciplined and respectful manner, until he is laid to rest.

"Rest in peace, Comrade President, Isithwalandwe-Seaparankwe, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela."