World joins South Africa in mourning Nelson Mandela

National memorial service to be held at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium on Dec. 10

Flowers left by mourners surround a portrait of Nelson Mandela outside his home in Johannesburg on Friday.
Denzil Margelere/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

South Africa mourned the death of the country's first black president Friday as tributes continued to flood in from around the world for Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero who died Thursday at the age of 95. 

Flags were lowered to half-mast throughout the nation, as both black and white South Africans — from townships, suburbs and the vast rural grasslands — commemorated the man who did more than any other to unite the once bitterly divided country.

Meanwhile, details of the official state memorial for the country's first post-apartheid leader began to form. Hours after the former president's death Thursday night, a vehicle containing his coffin, draped in South Africa's flag, pulled away from his home, escorted by military motorcycle outriders, to take his body to a military morgue in Pretoria, the administrative capital.

Mandela's death was announced on state TV by President Jacob Zuma, wearing mourning black, just before midnight. The news sparked an outpouring of grief. 

Many South Africans flocked to Mandela's home in Johannesburg's leafy Houghton neighborhood early Friday morning.

Mourners also gathered outside his former home on Vilakazi Street in the city's black township of Soweto. Many were singing and dancing as they celebrated his life.

One of the mourners was Ariel Sobel, who said he was born in 1993, a year before Mandela was elected president.

"What I liked most about Mandela was his forgiveness, his passion, his diversity," Sobel told The Associated Press. "I am not worried about what will happen next. We will continue as a nation. We knew this was coming. We are prepared."

A national memorial service will be held on Dec. 10 at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium, where Mandela addressed a large rally two days after his release from prison in 1990. He will be laid to rest on Dec. 15, Zuma said Friday. The burial will be at Mandela's ancestral home of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape. 

'God was good to S. Africa'

Click here for more coverage on the life of Nelson Mandela

In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said Mandela would want South Africans to be his "memorial" by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he demonstrated through his life. 

"God was so good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela to be our president at a crucial moment in our history," Tutu said. "He inspired us to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, and so South Africa did not go up in flames."

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. He and Mandela negotiated the end of apartheid, finding common cause in often tense circumstances. The two men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Summarizing Mandela's legacy, de Klerk paraphrased the leader's own words on eNCA television: "Never and never again should there be in South Africa the suppression of anyone by another."

Mandla Mandela said he was 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," he 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 recognize that Madiba belongs not only to us but to the entire world," the grandson said. "The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us."

'Giant among men'

On all continents, people hailed Mandela's indomitable courage. In a testament to his universal appeal, political leaders of various stripes joined critics and activists in paying tribute to him as a heroic force for peace and reconciliation.

President Barack Obama said of the man with whom he shares the distinction of being his nation’s first black president, "He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."

On Friday, the White House confirmed that Obama and first lady Michelle Obama would travel to South Africa next week to pay their respects to Mandela.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the Obamas will participate in memorial events, but didn't say specifically what day they planned to be in South Africa. 

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh compared Mandela to his country's own icon for the struggle for freedom, independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.

"A giant among men has passed away," Singh said. "This is as much India's loss as South Africa's. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come." 

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, leader of Africa's most populous country, said Mandela's death "will create a huge vacuum that will be difficult to fill in our continent."

The South African Rugby Union recalled that Mandela "used the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the first major sporting event to be hosted (in South Africa) after the 1994 democratic elections, as an instrument of change to help promote unity amongst all South Africans."

Actor Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela in Clint Eastwood's 2009 film "Invictus," about the events surrounding the Rugby World Cup, said, "Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century ... a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind."

Mandela died peacefully at his Johannesburg home after a prolonged lung infection. In 1990 he emerged from 27 years in apartheid prisons to help guide South Africa to democracy, becoming one of the world's most respected and loved figures. He was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 and retired in 1999.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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