President Jacob Zuma made the televised announcement late Thursday.
The man known fondly as Madiba is best remembered for ending decades of apartheid in his native South Africa, after spending years in prison on charges of treason.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison, 18 of which he spent on Robben Island breaking gravel and working in a lime quarry. He was released in 1990, at the age of 72.
He led negotiations with then-President F.W. de Klerk to usher in the end of apartheid and establish multi-racial elections in 1994, which he won in an overwhelming victory. He served a five-year term before leaving office, and retired from the public eye in 2004.
His time in prison left him with a permanent lung condition that plagued him for the rest of his life, including a long hospital stay earlier this year.
"Our nation has lost its greatest son," Zuma said Thursday. "Fellow South Africans, Nelson Mandela brought us together and it is together that we will bid him farewell."
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