South Africans of all races flocked to houses of worship Sunday for a national day of prayer and reflection to honor Nelson Mandela, as a large contingent of foreign dignitaries, including royalty, began arriving in the country to pay their final respects to the liberation-struggle icon.
The South African government said Sunday that 53 heads of state and government as well as a broad range of eminent people confirmed that they would be attending a national memorial service and state funeral for the country's first black and democratically elected president.
Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, joined one of his grandsons, Mandla Mandela, and South African President Jacob Zuma in a prayer service in a Methodist church in Johannesburg.
"We felt it important that we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy," Zuma said. "But it is also to pray for our nation ... to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for."
Zuma said Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, had forgiven even those who kept him in prison for 27 years and that he opposed both white and black domination.
Official services honoring Mandela will begin on Tuesday with a major memorial planned at FNB Stadium on the edge of Johannesburg's Soweto township. Government minister Collins Chabane told journalists Saturday that he expects massive crowds far beyond the stadium's capacity of 95,000. He said overflow areas would be set up.
"We can't tell people not to come," he said.
He could not provide details about how crowds would get there, with all roads to the venue closed by police, or who would serve as a master of ceremonies.
In their first comments since Mandela's death, members of his family on Saturday issued a statement thanking South Africa and the wider world for their support. They said they had "lost a great man" — as they had when South Africa's former apartheid government imprisoned him for decades.
"The pillar of our family is gone, just as he was away during that 27 painful years of imprisonment, but in our hearts and souls he will always be with us," said the release, read by family spokesman Lt. Gen. Themba Templeton Matanzima.
"His spirit endures. As a family, we commit ourselves to uphold and be guided by the values he lived for and was prepared to die for," he said.
On Monday, South Africa's two houses of parliament will hold special sessions to pay tribute to Mandela.