Nelson Mandela was 'a gift from God'

Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
Former South African president FW de Klerk walks away with wife Elita after paying respects to Nelson Mandela.
Former South African president FW de Klerk walks away with wife Elita after paying respects to Nelson Mandela.
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.
SOMBRE ARRIVAL: Personnel carry the coffin on Nelson Mandela into Union Buildings, Pretoria.
SOMBRE ARRIVAL: Personnel carry the coffin on Nelson Mandela into Union Buildings, Pretoria.
A flame burns near a portrait of Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu.
A flame burns near a portrait of Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu.
Attendees sing and dance at Nelson Mandela's memorial.
Attendees sing and dance at Nelson Mandela's memorial.
J. Nico Scholten, from Amsterdam, holds up a photo of his meeting with Nelson Mandela.
J. Nico Scholten, from Amsterdam, holds up a photo of his meeting with Nelson Mandela.
The crowds gather at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
The crowds gather at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
Elizabeth Alexander was on holiday from Sydney when Mandela died. She walked in the rain to get to the stadium.
Elizabeth Alexander was on holiday from Sydney when Mandela died. She walked in the rain to get to the stadium.
A child draped in a South African flag at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
A child draped in a South African flag at Soccer City stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial.
US President Barack Obama delivers his eulogy.
US President Barack Obama delivers his eulogy.
Aucklander Ray Vantrhaar was back home in South Africa for the funeral of his father.
Aucklander Ray Vantrhaar was back home in South Africa for the funeral of his father.
An image of Nelson Mandela shows on the big screen as US President Barack Obama speaks.
An image of Nelson Mandela shows on the big screen as US President Barack Obama speaks.
A mourner pumps his fist during the Nelson Mandela memorial in Soweto.
A mourner pumps his fist during the Nelson Mandela memorial in Soweto.
US President Barack Obama greets Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel.
US President Barack Obama greets Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel.
Mourners cover up with umbrellas as US President Barack Obama delivers his eulogy.
Mourners cover up with umbrellas as US President Barack Obama delivers his eulogy.
Under-fire South African President Jacob Zuma was booed and jeered before his speech.
Under-fire South African President Jacob Zuma was booed and jeered before his speech.
LIFE CELEBRATION: Crowds have filled a stadium in Johannesburg to farewell former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.
LIFE CELEBRATION: Crowds have filled a stadium in Johannesburg to farewell former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.
LIFE CELEBRATION: Young and old came to pay their respects.
LIFE CELEBRATION: Young and old came to pay their respects.
MEMORIAL PRESENCE: Graca Machel, Mandela's widow, was present at the stadium.
MEMORIAL PRESENCE: Graca Machel, Mandela's widow, was present at the stadium.
LIFE CELEBRATION: Unusual adornments were worn by some.
LIFE CELEBRATION: Unusual adornments were worn by some.
FORMER LEADER: Ex-South African president FW de Klerk takes his seat in the stadium.
FORMER LEADER: Ex-South African president FW de Klerk takes his seat in the stadium.
CURRENT LEADER: South African President Jacob Zuma waves as he arrives at the stadium. He was later booed by the crowd.
CURRENT LEADER: South African President Jacob Zuma waves as he arrives at the stadium. He was later booed by the crowd.
LIFE CELEBRATION: British Prime Minister David Cameron was among world leaders to attend.
LIFE CELEBRATION: British Prime Minister David Cameron was among world leaders to attend.
EX-WIFE: Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of Mandela, is seen in this still image from the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation.
EX-WIFE: Winnie Mandela, ex-wife of Mandela, is seen in this still image from the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation.
LIFE CELEBRATION: A woman in the crowd takes a moment for contemplation.
LIFE CELEBRATION: A woman in the crowd takes a moment for contemplation.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are escorted off the tarmac as they arrive in South Africa to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are escorted off the tarmac as they arrive in South Africa to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: The 95,000-seat stadium will host the main ceremony.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: The 95,000-seat stadium will host the main ceremony.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.
CELEBRATION OF A LIFE: People start singing as they arrive for a mass memorial for Nelson Mandela at First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg.
CANDLE LIGHT: South Africans have been laying tributes to Mandela since his death this month.
CANDLE LIGHT: South Africans have been laying tributes to Mandela since his death this month.
STREET SYMPATHY: Mourners react with song and dance on the street in Soweto where Mandela once lived.
STREET SYMPATHY: Mourners react with song and dance on the street in Soweto where Mandela once lived.
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Former Archbishop of Cape Town and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu held a mass at Cape Town's Anglican St George's Cathedral for Mandela.
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Former Archbishop of Cape Town and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu held a mass at Cape Town's Anglican St George's Cathedral for Mandela.
BIG BANNER: In France, a huge banner featuring Mandela's face was hung from the foreign affairs ministry.
BIG BANNER: In France, a huge banner featuring Mandela's face was hung from the foreign affairs ministry.
PARLIAMENT SQUARE: In London, in the shadow of Big Ben, floral tributes were laid at the base of Mandela's statue.
PARLIAMENT SQUARE: In London, in the shadow of Big Ben, floral tributes were laid at the base of Mandela's statue.
YOUNG TRIBUTES: A prayer ceremony was held at a school in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
YOUNG TRIBUTES: A prayer ceremony was held at a school in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

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.''

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.

INTERNATIONAL SYMPATHY

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