“He is now resting ... he is now at peace,” Zuma was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” he added.
Mandela is to be accorded a state funeral and national flags are to be lowered to half mast, Zuma said.
As South Africa’s first black president, the ex-boxer, lawyer and prisoner No. 46664 paved the way to racial reconciliation in the country.
Earlier on Thursday, Nelson Mandela’s family gathered around the bedside of the icon in his Johannesburg home. He had been critically ill and on a life support machine.
U.S. President Barack Obama made a statement about Mandela’s death from the White House.
“Today he has gone home and...the world has lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings,” Obama said.
“He transformed South Africa and it moved all of us,” added the U.S. president, who stated that “I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life.”
“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” stated Obama.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday said “a great light had gone out” following Mandela’s death, revealing that flags would be flown at half-mast at his Downing Street Office.
“A great light has gone out in the world,” Cameron wrote on his official Twitter account.
“Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I’ve asked for the flag at No.10 to be flown at half mast.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Thursday paid his respects to Mandela, “a charismatic giant.”
“With Nelson Mandela, the father of South Africa has died, the driving force for freedom and for reconciliation,” Fabius said in a statement.
In 1993, Mandela jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1994 he became the became the first black South African to hold the office of president and did so until 1999.
At the close of his presidential inauguration speech, Mandela said:
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
His last public appearance was in 2010 at the Soccer City stadium at the closing ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa.