South Africans held countrywide prayer services to commemorate the life of former President Nelson Mandela, the third day in a week of events that will culminate in a funeral at his childhood village of Qunu.
President Jacob Zuma designated today as a one of prayer and reflection after Mandela died on Dec. 5 at the age of 95. The nation’s first black leader had been ill for about a year, most recently with a lung infection, and died peacefully at his Johannesburg home surrounded by his family, Zuma said.
Mourners have flocked to Mandela’s house to pay their respects, leaving flowers and messages, while some sang and danced. Worshippers today gathered in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Soweto, the township where Mandela lived as a young adult, to pray for the statesman and ask for inspiration to further his legacy of non-racialism, equality and hope.
“Madiba paved the way for a better future but he cannot do it alone,” said Father Sebastian Rossouw, acting parish priest of Soweto’s Regina Mundi church, referring to Mandela’s clan name. “He needs you, me and the world to continue in the foundation he laid.”
Regina Mundi is South Africa’s biggest Catholic church and was a haven for activists during minority-white rule, or apartheid, which ended when Mandela became president in 1994.
His body will lie in state from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 at the government’s executive headquarters at the Union Buildings in the capital, Pretoria.
Zuma sat beside Mandela’s second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and grandson Mandla Mandela amid about 700 congregants at the Methodist church in Bryanston, an affluent and mainly white area in northern Johannesburg. About 60 children sat before the congregation, which clapped, swayed and sang the favorite hymns of Mandela’s mother in the Xhosa language, accompanied by an African djembe drum.
“Let’s pray that we don’t forget some of the values that Madiba stood for, that he fought for, that he sacrificed his life for,” Zuma said. “He stood for freedom. And he actively participated to remove the obstacles to freedom for the people of South Africa. He believed in forgiving and he forgave, even those who kept him in jail for 27 years.”
Zuma then danced with members of the church’s male choir and joined the crowd as they sang the national anthem. Members of Mandela’s family worships with this congregation.
When Mandela’s body is lying in state, mourners will be allowed to file past his open casket, which will be protected by a transparent covering, while a static camera feed will be located at the venue for broadcast, Neo Momodu, a spokeswoman for the Government Communication and Information Service, told reporters in Johannesburg yesterday.
People will be allowed to line the streets along the route when Mandela’s remains are transported to and from the morgue to the Union Buildings over the three days, Momodu said.
Mandela encouraged reconciliation after becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994 when apartheid ended. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with F.W. de Klerk, the last white president, for negotiating a peaceful end to apartheid.
At the Holy Cross church in Cape Town’s Nyanga township, about 200 congregants sang the national anthem and hymns, and joined in a prayer for Mandela written by Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who attended the service. Posters of the former president were affixed to the pulpit.
“Go home Madiba, you have selflessly done all that is good,” they prayed. “We will continue where you left off, the Lord being our helper. May his long walk to freedom be enjoyed and realized in our time by all of us.”
A special parliamentary sitting is planned tomorrow in Cape Town, followed the next day by a memorial service at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, the 94,000-seat venue where the final of the 2010 Soccer World Cup took place.
About 9,000 mourners are expected to attend the funeral in Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, located about 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Johannesburg, according to the government.
Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will join President Barack Obama on his trip to South Africa this week to attend memorial events, according to their spokesmen.
Visitors packed a ferry to visit Robben Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Cape Town, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison and is now a museum. A tent was set up outside the mainland ferry station at the city’s Waterfront shopping center with a photo of Mandela, a candle and condolence books.
“We have lost a leader,” said teacher Fikile Makhubela from the northeastern town of Nelspruit, who visited the island today. “It’s going to be very difficult to fill his shoes. Mandela taught us peace, unity and reconciliation.”
After a single five-year term as president, Mandela became a champion in the fight against Aids, disclosing that one of his sons died from the disease. He retired from public life in 2004 and was last seen publicly at the World Cup in Johannesburg three years ago.
“We are here to celebrate Madiba’s life,” said bank administrator Nobabalo Hallam, 38, who attended the service in Nyanga, Cape Town. “I’m relieved he has passed on, that there is no more suffering.”