With hymns and eulogies, South Africans of all colours and creeds remembered Nelson Mandela in a day of prayers yesterday, holding him up as a symbol of freedom, forgiveness, and hope for the nation and the world.
At churches, mosques, synagogues, and community halls from the Limpopo River to the Cape, millions offered praise and reflected on a man celebrated as “Father of the Nation” and as a global beacon of integrity, rectitude, and reconciliation.
Mandela, South Africa’s first black president who steered his nation out of apartheid and into multi-racial democracy, died on Thursday at the age of 95.
Since then, the country has been gripped by an outpouring of emotion unrivalled since Mandela’s release from 27 years of prison in 1990 and his subsequent election victory. Crowds have piled flowers, candles, balloons, and messages outside his Johannesburg home.
At the cavernous Regina Mundi church in Soweto, South Africa’s largest Catholic Church, hundreds of mourners, young and old, gathered to pray for Mandela and the nation’s future.
“People are praying that there will be change, that we will come together,” said Gladys Simelane, an office manager.
Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, attended a Methodist service in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston, where President Jacob Zuma hailed the values of the country’s most beloved statesman.
“He believed in forgiveness and he forgave even those who kept him in jail for 27 years,” Zuma said in a eulogy.
“He stood for freedom. He fought against those who oppressed others. He wanted everyone to be free.”
The day of prayers opens an official programme of mourning that includes a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium tomorrow and a state funeral next Sunday at Mandela’s Eastern Cape ancestral home of Qunu — expected to be one of the biggest gatherings of world leaders in recent history.
Fifty-nine heads of state or government have so far said they will attend the memorial or the funeral, a foreign ministry spokesman said. Large contingents of royalty and celebrities are also expected.
US President Barack Obama, and former presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, and British prime minister David Cameron will be among those at tomorrow’s memorial.