JOHANNESBURG - As news of Nelson Mandela's death spread across South Africa, residents of Soweto gathered in the streets near the house where he once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his colossal life.

The people of South Africa reacted Friday with deep sadness at the loss of a man considered by many to be the father of the nation, while mourners said it was also a time to celebrate the achievements of the antiapartheid leader who emerged from prison to become South Africa's first black president.

President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela's death Thursday night on television, saying the 95-year-old, known affectionately by his clan name "Madiba," had died "peacefully" around 8:50 p.m. in the company of his family.

"He is now resting. He is now at peace," Zuma said. "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."

Zuma said national flags would be lowered to half-staff from Friday until after a state funeral.

Some people gathered with candles as media swarmed outside the Johannesburg home where Mandela had received medical care in past months. About 40 people celebrated Mandela's life by dancing and singing outside his former home in the Soweto area of Johannesburg.

"I'm disappointed. I'm sad," said Thumelo Madikwe, 29, an accountant. "But at the same time, he had his part in life and he did it very well. It's fine that he goes. He was old."

Big gatherings of mourners were expected in coming days as the country prepares a formal farewell for a man who helped guide the country from racial conflict to all-race elections in 1994.

"He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to emphasize with others," retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement. "He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect."

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president, said he and Mandela first met in 1989 and concluded they could do business with each other as the country began its long-awaited transition to democratic rule.

"Although we were political opponents - and although our relationship was often stormy - we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process," de Klerk said in a statement.

Human-rights advocate George Bizos told eNCA television that Mandela, a longtime friend, "was larger than life. We will not find another like him."

At Nelson Mandela Square in the upscale Sandton neighborhood of Johannesburg, six people stood at the foot of a six-yard bronze statue of Mandela, paying homage. They were two whites, two blacks, and two of Indian descent, and represented the "rainbow nation" Mandela had fought and sacrificed for.

"For 23 years, I walked a path with this man since he was released," said Sonja Pocock, 46, a white pharmaceutical sales representative.

Krezaan Schoeman, 38, an Afrikaner colleague of Pocock's, said, "I admired him. He stood for something, for freedom and equality."

Standing nearby with a friend, Valentino More, 24, a black student, said he came to Mandela Square needing to pay tribute. "It's a big day, actually, because our father just passed."