SOUTH Africans were united in grief with politicians, religious leaders and ordinary people across the world on Friday, as they entered a period of mourning for Nelson Mandela .
• Mandela will be buried on Sun 15 Dec in Qunu, will lay in state in Pretoria from Wednesday
• Sunday will be national day of prayer in South Africa
• Memorial service to be held in Soweto on Tuesday
The world awoke with a deep sense of loss for the man who symbolised the struggle against apartheid and whose willingness to forgive his tormentors healed the racial wounds that once disfigured his beloved country.
The day after Mr Mandela’s death was announced, plans were under way for a ten-day wake, which will reflect the sadness felt at the loss of South Africa’s first black president as well as celebrate a remarkable life that changed the world.
As tributes poured in from across the globe, current South African president Jacob Zuma said the freedom fighter-turned-statesman would be buried a week tomorrow in Qunu, at a state funeral in the village where he grew up. It will be prefaced by a series of events to mark 95-year-old’s death, starting with a national day of prayer and reflection tomorrow.
On Tuesday, thousands will make the pilgrimage to the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg for an open-air memorial service at the venue where Mr Mandela made his last public appearance – at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.
His body will then lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria for three days, during which official memorial services will be held across South Africa.
“We will spend the week mourning his passing,” Mr Zuma said. “We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived.”
Using Mandela’s clan name, Mr Zuma added: “We call upon all our people to gather in halls, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and in their homes for prayer services and meditation, reflecting on the life of Madiba and his contribution to our country and the world.”
Among mourners at the funeral will be Prime Minister David Cameron, US president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, and a host of other world leaders.
During a moving appearance at the White House, where the flag flew at half mast, Mr Obama said: “He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. And, like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set.”
There was a mixture of grief and joy as thousands filled the streets around Mr Mandela’s home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton last night. Many sang traditional songs and danced in tribute to the leader who challenged the might of white rule and spent 27 years in jail. The crowd, both black and white, included toddlers carrying flowers, domestic workers still in uniform and businessmen in suits. “What I liked most about Mandela was his forgiveness, his passion, his diversity,” said Ariel Sobel, a white man born in 1993, a year before Mr Mandela was elected president.
“I am not worried about what will happen next. We will continue as a nation. We knew this was coming. We are prepared.”
As Mr Sobel stood with the crowds in Houghton, a dozen doves were released into the sky and people sang the national anthem, God Bless Africa – also the anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle – as well as hymns.
Many wore traditional garb of Zulu, Xhosa and South Africa’s other ethnic groups. One carried a sign saying: “He will rule the universe with God.”
In Soweto, the black township where Mr Mandela used to live, pockets of dancers and singers shuffled through the streets, celebrating his life, with dozens of children holding up large pictures of their hero.
Themba Radebe, 60, who filmed the celebrations on his mobile phone, said: “I’m sorry, I’m too emotional. The tears come too easily. This is a celebration of the death, because we knew he was an old man. He brought a lot of changes to our community, because I grew up in apartheid. It was a very bad situation.”
In sports-mad South Africa, Mr Mandela’s passing will be marked at numerous games and tournaments. Fixtures going ahead include international cricket which, before the Mandela-inspired transformation that defeated apartheid, was the preserve of the white man.
It was late on Thursday night that Mr Zuma announced Mr Mandela had died. He had been in and out of hospital four times since February 2011 with a recurring lung infection – a legacy of the long period he spent in apartheid jails, including the notorious Robben Island penal colony. He had been discharged in September to convalesce at home and be with his family.
After midnight, a black 4x4 containing Mr Mandela’s coffin and draped in South Africa’s flag, pulled away from his home, escorted by military motorcycle outriders, to take his body to a military morgue in Pretoria.
FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president was among the many people to praise Mr Mandela – the man with whom he negotiated a new beginning for South Africa – as a “very human person” with a sense of humour.
Summarising Mr Mandela’s legacy, Mr de Klerk paraphrased the first black leader’s own words. He said: “Never and never again should there be in South Africa the suppression of anyone by another.”
At a church service in Cape Town, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said Mr Mandela would want South Africans themselves to be his “memorial” by adhering to the values of unity and democracy he embodied.
Archbishop Tutu, who, like Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, recalled the early 1990s when South Africa teetered on the brink of a race war. “All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration,” he said.
He recalled how Mr Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid and prepared for all-race elections in 1994. “God, thank you for the gift of Madiba,” he said.
Further afield, the loss of Mr Mandela was also keenly felt. Leaders from all over the world spoke of their admiration.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said: “Mandela, having gone through the most difficult ordeals, was committed to the end of his days to the ideals of humanism and justice.”
Chinese president Xi Jinping said his people would always remember his “outstanding contributions to the China-South Africa relationship and the course of progress of mankind”.
The Queen led the UK in sending her “sincere condolences” to Mr Mandela’s family and the people of South Africa. She said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of his death.
As books of condolence opened across the country, flags flew at half mast at the request of the Foreign Office.
Mr Cameron visited the South African High Commission in London to offer his condolences, remembering a man who “will inspire generations to come”.
A national service of thanksgiving for the life of Mr Mandela is to be held at Westminster Abbey after the state funeral in South Africa.
First Minister Alex Salmond said Mr Mandela had been an “inspiration to countless millions”, and former PM Gordon Brown described him as “the greatest leader of our generation”.