Published December 07, 2013
Flags were lowered to half-staff, a dozen doves were released into the sky, and crowds of South Africans gathered at make shift shrines Friday to mourn the loss of their former president, Nelson Mandela, the man many considered the father of that nation.
Tributes continued to pour in from world leaders and ordinary citizens for the former Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid leader, who died Thursday at the age of 95. President Jacob Zuma, said Mandela, known affectionately by his clan name "Madiba" had died "peacefully" at around 8:50 p.m. while in the company of his family.
He spent almost three months in a Pretoria hospital after being admitted in June with a recurring lung infection from which he never recovered. Mandela was then discharged in September and received home-based medical attention.
Hours after his death Thursday night, a black SUV-type vehicle containing Mandela's 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.
Outside the Soweto home where Mandela once lived, and the Johannesburg home where he died, residents danced and sang tribal songs, the African national anthem, and Christian hymns. Others left flowers, candles, and signs in makeshift shrines. South African citizens in black townships, rural grasslands, and upscale mostly white suburbs commemorated Mandela with tears and prayers Friday, while pledging to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
President Zuma ordered all flags to fly at half –staff until Mandela is laid to rest at his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Dec. 15. Sunday marks a national day of prayer and reflection, and a memorial service is to be held on Tuesday at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium. Mandela's last public appearance was at the same stadium in 2010 for the closing ceremony of the soccer World Cup.
Mandela's body will then lie in state in Pretoria for three days. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be among the many leaders and dignitaries from around the world expected to travel to South Africa to pay their respects to the former president.
In Washington Thursday, President Obama called Mandela one of the "most influential, courageous and profoundly good" people to ever have lived.
"He achieved more than could be expected of any man," an emotional Obama said, in remarks from the White House, adding: "He belongs to the ages."
Obama ordered U.S. flags to be lowered immediately to half-staff until Monday evening in tribute to Mandela.
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, the anti-apartheid leader 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.
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.
Many South Africans considered Mandela a father to all people who inspired the world with his courage.. "He came here to Soweto as a lawyer and he led us. When he came out of jail in 1994, after 27 years, he did not come out a bitter man and encourage us to fight. No, he came out with a message of peace," said Mbulelo Radebe, 37.
Leaders around the world joined in praising Mandela, calling him a force for justice and towering figure who inspired people around the globe.
"Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters, Reuters reported. "Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity."
Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Mandela as a "unique political figure at a unique moment" in history.
"Through his leadership, he guided the world into a new era of politics in which black and white, developing and developed, north and south, despite all the huge differences in wealth and opportunity, stood for the first time together on equal terms," Blair said.
Former President Jimmy Carter, who had personal connections with Mandela, said the people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world had lost a great leader.
"His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide," Carter said.
The tributes to Mandela that came from people across the spectrum showed that he had affected people deeply. "What I liked most about Mandela was his forgiveness, his passion, his diversity, the pact of what he did," said Ariel Sobel, a white man who was born in 1993, a year before 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.