JOHANNESBURG » Flags were lowered to half-staff across South Africa and people in black townships, in upscale mostly white suburbs and in the country’s vast rural grasslands commemorated Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers today while pledging to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
The anti-apartheid leader will be buried on Sunday, Dec. 15 at his rural home in Qunu, and a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 10, President Jacob Zuma announced. Mandela’s body will lie in state at government buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday, Dec. 11, until the burial, and this coming Sunday, Dec. 8, will be a national day of prayer and reflection.
South African Airways said it will provide chartered air transport for invited mourners to Mandela’s funeral in his rural hometown in Eastern Cape province.
Hours after Mandela’s death Thursday night, a black SUV-type vehicle containing his coffin, draped in South Africa’s flag, pulled away from Mandela’s home after midnight, escorted by military motorcycle outriders, to take the body to a military morgue in Pretoria, the capital.
Many South Africans heard the news, which was announced on state TV by Zuma wearing mourning black just before midnight, upon waking today, and they flocked to his home in Johannesburg’s leafy Houghton neighborhood. One woman hugged her two sons over a floral tribute.
A dozen doves were released into the skies. A man walked around with a tall-stemmed sunflower. People sang tribal songs, the national anthem, God Bless Africa — the anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle — and Christian 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." Jewish and Muslim leaders were also present.
Preparing for larger crowds in the coming days, portable toilets were delivered. Also expecting an influx of mourners, a man sold flags and paraphernalia of Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, or ANC.
One of the mourners, Ariel Sobel, said he was born in 1993, a year before Mandela was elected president.
"What I liked most about Mandela was his forgiveness, his passion, his diversity, the pact of what he did," Sobel said. "I am not worried about what will happen next. We will continue as a nation. We knew this was coming. We are prepared."
In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate said Mandela would want South Africans themselves to be his "memorial" by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
"All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration," Tutu said, recalling how Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid, the cruel system of white minority rule, and prepared for all-race elections in 1994. In those elections, Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, became South Africa’s first black president.
"God, thank you for the gift of Madiba," said Tutu in his closing his prayer, using Mandela’s clan name.
In Mandela’s hometown of Qunu in the wide-open spaces of the Eastern Cape province, relatives consoled each other as they mourned the death of South Africa’s most famous citizen.
Mandela was a "very human person" with a sense of humor who took interest in people around him, said F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president. The two men negotiated the end of apartheid, finding common cause in often tense circumstances, and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Summarizing Mandela’s legacy, de Klerk paraphrased Mandela’s own words on eNCA television: "Never and never again should there be in South Africa the suppression of anyone by another."
Mourners also gathered outside Mandela’s former home on Vilakazi Street in the city’s black township of Soweto. Many were singing and dancing as they celebrated Mandela’s life.
The liberation struggle icon’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, said he is strengthened by the knowledge that his grandfather is finally at rest.
"All that I can do is thank God that I had a grandfather who loved and guided all of us in the family," Mandla Mandela said in a statement. "The best lesson that he taught all of us was the need for us to be prepared to be of service to our people."
"We in the family recognize that Madiba belongs not only to us but to the entire world. The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us," the grandson said.
Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s personal assistant for almost two decades, said the elder statesman inspired people to forgive, reconcile, care, be selfless, tolerant, and to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances.
"His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country, but particularly how we relate to one another," she said in a statement.
Helen Zille, leader of South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and premier of the Western Cape, the only province not controlled by the ANC, commented: "We all belong to the South African family — and we owe that sense of belonging to Madiba. That is his legacy. It is why there is an unparalleled outpouring of national grief at his passing. It is commensurate with the contribution he made to our country."
The ANC has postponed its national executive committee, scheduled for this weekend, following Mandela’s death. Banks will close on the day of Mandela’s funeral, said South Africa’s banking association.
AP reporter Ray Faure contributed to this report.