Makgatho Mandela, 54, died in a Johannesburg clinic where he had been receiving treatment for more than a month.

“We have called you today to 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 TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV,” said Mr Mandela, accompanied by his wife Graca Machel and other family members at his Johannesburg home.

His announcement of his personal AIDS tragedy challenged the taboo which keeps many Africans from discussing an epidemic that now infects more than 25 million people across the continent.

In South Africa, which with around five million HIV/AIDS infections has the highest AIDS caseload in the world.

The disease kills more than 600 people every day.

President Thabo Mbeki, who has been widely accused of moving slowly on South Africa’s AIDS crisis, earlier paid a condolence visit to Mr Mandela.

More than once Mr Mbeki has made controversial statements about the disease, including comments he did not personally know anyone who had died of AIDS, and questioned the link between HIV infection and full-blown AIDS.

Mr Mandela has become one of a few prominent figures in the ruling African National Congress to publicly acknowledge AIDS has affected their families.

The deaths of several ANC officials in the past have sparked rumours that they had been suffering from AIDS, but the ruling party has always said it is up to the families to announce the causes of death.

Makgatho Mandela was a lawyer with a background in insurance who kept a relatively low profile.

Nelson Mandela lost his first son, Madiba Thembekile, in a car crash in 1969.

He has three surviving children: Maki, a daughter from his first marriage, and Zindzi and Zenani, two daughters from his second marriage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela from whom he separated in 1992.

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