CAPE TOWN, South Africa – In death, Nelson Mandela unified South Africans of all races and backgrounds Sunday on a day of prayer for the global statesman – from a vaulted cathedral with hymns and incense to a rural, hilltop church with goat-skin drums and barefoot dancing.
Mandela was remembered in old bedrocks of resistance to white domination as well as former bastions of loyalty to apartheid.
“May his long walk to freedom be enjoyed and realized in our time by all of us,” worshippers said in a prayer at the majestic St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, where the first white settlers arrived centuries ago aboard European ships.
South Africa’s reflection on Mandela’s astonishing life was a prelude to a massive memorial in a Johannesburg stadium Tuesday that will draw world leaders and luminaries. The extended farewell – a bittersweet mix of grief and celebration – ends Dec. 15, when Mandela is to be buried in his rural hometown of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.
The anti-apartheid campaigner wanted to die in those modest, traditional surroundings; instead, he died Thursday at age 95 in his home in an exclusive Johannesburg area. He was surrounded by family after months of a debilitating illness that required the constant care of a team of doctors.
Family friend Bantu Holomisa told the Associated Press that Mandela wasn’t on life support in his final hours. He appeared to be sleeping calmly but it was obvious that he was finally succumbing, added Holomisa, who said he saw Mandela about two hours before his death.
“I’ve seen people who are on their last hours and I could sense that he is now giving up,” said Holomisa, who is the leader of the United Democratic Movement in parliament.
In Johannesburg, hundreds swayed and sang at the Regina Mundi Church that was near the epicenter of the Soweto township uprising against white rule in 1976 and served as a refuge from security forces who fired tear gas around the building and whose bullets have pockmarked the outside walls.