Nelson Mandela was 'a gift from God'

Last updated 08:54 07/12/2013

Mourners continue to dance and sing outside Nelson Mandela's former house in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, in celebration of his life.

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Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.

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South Africans have erupted in song, dance and tears in public and emotional celebrations of the life of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who bridged the country's black-white divide and helped avert a race war. 

People of all colours hugged and shared emotional moments as anti-apartheid leaders like retired archbishop Desmond Tutu called for the 51 million South Africans to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that Mandela embodied.

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 impact 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 anti-apartheid leader will be buried on Sunday, December 15 at his rural home in Qunu, and a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium will be held on Tuesday, December 10, President Jacob Zuma announced.

Mandela's body will lie in state at government buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday, December 11, until the burial, and on Sunday, December 8, there will be a national day of prayer and reflection.

Hours after Mandela's death, 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 local time, upon waking Friday, and they flocked to his home in Johannesburg's leafy Houghton neighbourhood.

A dozen doves were released into the skies and 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.'' 

In Soweto, the rough and tumble black township where Mandela used to live, pockets of dancers and singers shuffled through the street, celebrating Mandela's life. Dozens of kids held oversized pictures of the anti-apartheid icon. 

''I'm sorry, I'm too emotional. The tears come too easily,'' Themba Radebe, a 60-year-old who was filming the street celebration with his phone, told a reporter. He later decided to share his thoughts.

''This is a celebration of the death, because we knew he was an old man,'' said Radebe, whose eyes sparkled with shallow tears. ''He brought a lot of changes to our community, because I grew up in apartheid. It was a very bad situation.''

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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.

Summarising 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 recognise 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.


New Zealand Prime Minister John Key will join world leaders in South Africa for Mandela's funeral.

In a gesture usually reserved for the funerals of heads of state, following news of Mandela's death all flags on New Zealand's government department buildings were lowered to half-mast.

They will also fly at half-mast on the day of Mandela's funeral. A condolence book has been opened at Parliament.

Key said he intended to attend the funeral with a small delegation of government representatives. It is yet to be confirmed who that will include.

US President Barack Obama will travel to South Africa next week to participate in memorial events for Mandela.

"President Obama and the first lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events. We'll have further updates on timing and logistics as they become available," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

- Fairfax NZ, with AP

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