Then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan smiling during his final press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2006. Picture: Zhao Peng/Xinhua

Johannesburg - The Thabo Mbeki Foundation has expressed shock at the death of former United Nations (UN) secretary general Kofi Annan.

"It was with great shock that the patron of our foundation former president Thabo Mbeki and the rest of the foundation heard the news that the former secretary general of the United Nations Mr Kofi Annan had passed away," the foundation said in a statement on Saturday.

This was particularly shocking given that only a month ago, in July, a healthy looking Annan had joined the people of South Africa in Johannesburg to celebrate the centenary of the birth of former president Nelson Mandela.

"Over the years, as Africans, we have held Kofi Annan in high esteem. Following on the footsteps of Boutros Boutros Ghali he was the second African to hold the high position of secretary general of the UN. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize because of his contribution to world peace during his tenure as UN Secretary General.

"The outstanding African diplomat Kofi Annan dedicated his adult life to the service of all humanity. He, therefore, worked in the United Nations for many decades, serving in different positions within the organisation and its agencies," the foundation said.

Even after he retired from international public service, he continued to carry out many important international missions, many of them as an envoy of the UN. Accordingly, Annan had left his indelible and positive imprint on many of the greatest global challenges.

These included the important issues of world peace, the promotion of human rights, the eradication of poverty and inequality, the protection of the most vulnerable, such as refugees, and the renaissance of Africa, the foundations said.

"We are humbled to convey our since condolences to his dear wife Nane, their children, and the rest of the Annan family."

Annan became the seventh UN secretary general. The Ghanaian diplomat was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and was the first black African to head the UN.

Annan, 80, died in the early hours of Saturday in Switzerland after a short illness, according to a statement issued by his family. He served as secretary general from January 1997 to December 2006. He was founder and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation.

African News Agency/ANA