Nelson Mandela, Humanitarian and HIV Advocate, Dies at 95

The tireless HIV and human rights advocate passed away Thursday after a long battle with illness.

BY Michelle Garcia

December 05 2013 5:13 PM ET

Human rights icon and former South African president Nelson Mandela passed away surrounded by friends and family Thursday. He was 95.

"Our nation has lost its greatest son," South African President Jacob Zuma said Thursday in a televised address. "His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him our love."

In addition to being the face of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, and a leader in peaceful liberation, Mandela was also an avid luminary in Africa's fight against HIV and AIDS. South Africa was one of the hardest hit nations, with millions of people in the population living with HIV.

In 2005, Mandela announced that his son died due to complications from AIDS:

"I announce that my son has died of AIDS," the 86-year-old Nobel Peace laureate told a news conference, urging a redoubled fight against the disease. "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary," said a frail-looking Mandela, surrounded by his grandchildren and other family members.

Chris Smith, the United Kingdom's first openly gay lawmaker, announced he was HIV-positive in 2005, citing Mandela's comments about his son as inspiration. Smith had been diagnosed in 1987 and kept it a secret even while appointed culture secretary in 1997 by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mandela took his message of HIV awareness all over the globe, including to the Arctic Circle, and MTV.

In 2009, Mandela was heralded as a gay icon in England's National Portrait Gallery, along with LGBT people and allies. The exhibit was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City.

When South Africa approved a new constitution in 1997, drafted by then-president Mandela, it was hailed as being one of the most liberal in the world. Gays celebrated a clause in the constitution that made discrimination based on sexual identity illegal. Various rulings by South Africa's Constitutional Court, including one allowing gay couples to adopt children, have since been added. South Africa was the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to legalize same-sex marriage.

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