Tony Abbott believes Nelson Mandela was one of the truly great figures of the last century.

Nelson Mandela was one of the great figures of Africa and of the last century, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.

The 95-year-old anti-apartheid icon who became South Africa’s first black president died on Thursday night.

“Nelson Mandela was one of the great figures of Africa, arguably one of the great figures of the last century,” Mr Abbott told Fairfax radio.

He was the father of modern South Africa, he said.

“A truly great man.

“And while I never met him I did read that book A Long Walk To Freedom and I guess the impression we get of Nelson Mandela is someone who suffered but was not embittered but ennobled through that suffering.”