JOHANNESBURG

- As the 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 early today 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 anti-apartheid leader who emerged from prison to become South Africa's first black president.

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

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

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

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.

At Nelson Mandela Square in the upscale Sandton neighborhood of Johannesburg, six people stood at the foot of bronze statue of Mandela, paying homage to the leader. The six were two whites, two blacks and two of Indian descent, and represented South Africa's "rainbow nation" that Mandela had fought and sacrificed for.

"For 23 years, I walked a path with this man since he was released," said Sonja Pocock, 46. "I'm from the old regime. He's like my grandfather. He is my grandfather."