Mandela remembered with praise and prayersReuters . Johannesburg
With hymns and eulogies, South Africans of all colours and creeds remembered Nelson Mandela in a day of prayers on Sunday, holding him up as an example of freedom and forgiveness to build a better nation and world.
At churches, mosques, synagogues and community halls from the Limpopo River to the Cape, millions offered praise and reflected on a man celebrated as ‘Father of the Nation’ and as a global beacon of integrity, rectitude and reconciliation.
Mandela, South Africa’s first black president who steered his nation out of apartheid and into multi-racial democracy, died on Thursday at the age of 95 after months of illness.
Since then, the country has been gripped by an outpouring of emotion unrivalled since Mandela’s release from 27 years of prison in 1990 and his subsequent election victory. Crowds have piled flowers, candles, balloons and messages outside his Johannesburg home.
At the cavernous Regina Mundi church in Soweto, South Africa’s largest Catholic Church, hundreds of mourners young and old gathered to pray for Mandela and the nation’s future.
‘We are praying for both,’ said Gladys Simelane, an office manager. ‘People are praying that there will be change, that we will come together.’
Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, dressed in black, attended a Methodist service in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston, where President Jacob Zuma hailed the values of the country’s most beloved statesman.
‘He believed in forgiveness and he forgave, even those who kept him in jail for 27 years,’ Zuma said in a eulogy.
‘He stood for freedom. He fought against those who oppressed others. He wanted everyone to be free.’
The day of prayers opens an official programme of mourning that includes a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium on Tuesday and a state funeral next Sunday at Mandela’s Eastern Cape ancestral home of Qunu - expected to be one of the biggest gatherings of world leaders in recent history.
The US president, Barack Obama, and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will be among those at Tuesday’s memorial.
Mandela’s passing, though long expected as he succumbed slowly to a lung ailment dating back to his days in the notorious Robben Island penal colony, has plunged South Africans into soul-searching mode, six months before presidential and legislative elections.
President Jacob Zuma’s ruling African National Congress faces a clamour of calls for better leadership after several years in which South Africa has experienced violent labour unrest, growing protests against poverty, crime and unemployment, and corruption scandals tainting Zuma’s rule.
It remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, still some way from the ‘Rainbow Nation’ ideal of shared prosperity and social harmony that Mandela proclaimed when he won the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994.
Meanwhile, the last breath Nelson Mandela drew was his own, free of any life support, in the presence of his closest family members, South African media reported on Sunday, AFP reported.
‘By the time he died on Thursday evening, he was not on a life-support machine and had been breathing on his own,’ the Sunday Times weekly reported.
The anti-apartheid champion who became South Africa’s first black president had been repeatedly hospitalised with lung troubles in recent years and had often had to rely on artificial ventilation.
The Sunday Times said grandson Mandla had been urgently summoned from the village of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape province to his grandfather’s bedside.
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