9 Dec 2013

South Africa holds day of prayer for Mandela

11:23 am on 9 December 2013

Millions of South Africans have remembered Nelson Mandela with hymns and eulogies at houses of worship across the country, in a national day of prayer and reflection to mark his death.

The day marks the start of a week of commemorative events to mark the former president and anti-apartheid leader's death. A national memorial service is also planned, before a state funeral on Sunday.

Churchgoers at a mass in Soweto, near Johannesburg.

Churchgoers at a mass in Soweto, near Johannesburg. Photo: AFP

At Soweto's Regina Mundi Catholic Church, a centre of the anti-apartheid struggle, the priest Sebastian Roussouw said the late leader had been "a light in the darkness".

In Cape Town, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said Mr Mandela was a powerful and continuing reminder that individuals have the power to make change happen in the world.

The South African government has announced 59 heads of state or government have so far confirmed they will take part in the memorial service or state funeral of Mr Mandela.

The South African government said US President Barack Obama, Francois Hollande of France and UK PM David Cameron will be among those attending Tuesday's memorial at a Soweto stadium.

International leaders will join 95,000 ordinary South Africans at the memorial service at FNB stadium where Nelson Mandela made his final major public appearance during the 2010 football World Cup.

The event is likely to be one of the biggest such gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years, the BBC reports.

South Africans have been holding vigils since Mr Mandela died at home on Thursday at the age of 95, after several months of ill health. The focal points for public remembrance have so far been Mr Mandela's house in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton and his old home in Soweto.

Nelson Mandela's home in Johannesburg has become an a focus for commemorations.

Nelson Mandela's home in Johannesburg has become an a focus for commemorations. Photo: AFP

Unity as Mandela remembered

A long-time friend of Nelson Mandela and spokesperson for the President Jacob Zuma says there is a sense of unity in the streets of South Africa as people remember the former president.

Mac Maharaj was in jail on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and smuggled out part of the manuscript which formed Mr Mandela's memoir, Long Walk to Freedom.

Mr Maharaj told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme that people of all colours and religions are celebrating Mr Mandela's life together and that unity can be attributed to the work of the former leader.

"I think that there is a deep process going on in South Africa. Madiba has been part and parcel of that and I'm so proud that we've had that opportunity when so many have been preaching doom and gloom in our country."