updated 08/25/2015 AT 8:16 PM ET
•originally published 12/05/2013 AT 4:55 PM ET
Nelson Mandela, who heroically symbolized the longstanding fight against South Africa’s white supremacist government – and rose from its victimized prisoner to his nation’s powerful and compassionate leader – has died, according to South African President Jacob Zuma.
He was 95.
“My Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding President of our democratic nation has departed. He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 20h50 on the 5th of December 2013,” Zuma said in a statement.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.”
Having suffered from failing health over the past several months, Mandela was readmitted to a Pretoria hospital in early June for a recurring lung infection that at one point developed into pneumonia. His lungs had been weakened as a result of his contracting tuberculosis during the 27 years he spent behind bars. On Sept. 1, he was released from the hospital but remained “critical and is at times unstable,” according to a statement from the Office of the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa. His treatment continued at home.
During those years as political prisoner No. 0221141011, and later No. 46664, Mandela’s words and physical likeness were barred from public view in South Africa. Yet, his fame and reputation only grew, PEOPLE reported in 1990, propelled even further in the instant that Mandela was set free by the country’s then-president, F.W. de Klerk.
“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment,” Mandela, then 71, told thousands of cheering supporters hours after his release. “We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle.”