South Africa prepares for Mandela’s funeral, mourning continues

South Africans are expected to assemble in churches, mosques and halls on Sunday for a national day of prayer and reflection honoring Nelson Mandela.

The former president and anti-apartheid icon died on Thursday, following a lengthy illness. He was 95.

Mandela family spokesman General Themba Matanzima said Saturday that the past few days had not been easy.

“The pillar of the family is gone,” he said. “Just as he was away during that painful 27 years of imprisonment. But in our hearts and souls he will always be with us. His spirit and yours.”

Thousands of mourners have been flocking to sites around South Africa to pay homage to Mandela, an anti-apartheid icon.On Saturday, a large crowded gathered in Soweto township where people sang, danced and held up pictures of Mandela. He lived in the township when he was a young lawyer.

Organizers say they expect about 9,000 people to attend a public state funeral on December 15, in Mandela’s ancestral village of Qunu.

The official memorial service will be held on December 10 at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium — site of the 2010 World Cup final.
From December 11-13, Mandela’s remains will lie in state at the Union Building in Pretoria and official memorial services will also be held in all provinces and regions.Scores of world leaders and celebrities are expected for the funeral and memorial services of South Africa’s first black president, including U.S. President Barack Obama. Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are also expected to attend.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his role in fighting to end white minority rule and official discrimination against blacks in South Africa.

After his release, he became a symbol of peace and reconciliation and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The following year, he became South Africa’s first black president.

(Photo: UN Photo/John Isaac)