Flags were lowered to half-mast across South Africa as people in black townships, in upscale mostly white suburbs and in the vast rural grasslands united in mourning Nelson Mandela, celebrating a remarkable life with dance and song, and pledging to adhere to the values of unity that he embodied.
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 until the burial, and this coming Sunday will be a national day of prayer and reflection.
On Friday, the country's 52 million people absorbed the news that the statesman, a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence, had departed forever.
Hours after Mandela's death on Thursday night, a black four-wheel-drive vehicle containing his coffin, draped in South Africa's flag, pulled away from his home after midnight, escorted by 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, upon waking on Friday, and they flocked to his home in Johannesburg's leafy Houghton neighbourhood. One woman hugged her two sons over a floral tribute.
A dozen doves were released into the skies.
A man walked around with a tall-stemmed sunflower. 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."
Expecting an influx of mourners, a man sold flags and paraphernalia of Mandela's political party, the African National Congress, or ANC. Portable toilets were brought in.
One of the mourners, Ariel Sobel, 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, the pact of what he did," Sobel said.
"I am not worried about what will happen next. We will continue as a nation. We knew this was coming. We are prepared.''
For South Africa, the death of its most loved leader comes at a time when the nation, which basked in global goodwill after apartheid ended, has been experiencing labour unrest, growing protests against poor services, poverty, crime and unemployment and corruption scandals tainting Zuma's rule.
'The gift of Madiba'
Many see today's South Africa - the continent's biggest economy but also one of the world's most unequal - as still distant from the Rainbow Nation ideal of social peace and shared prosperity that Mandela had proclaimed on his triumphant release from prison in 1990.
"I feel like I lost my father, someone who would look out for me," said Joseph Nkosi, 36, a security guard.
|World mourns Nelson Mandela death
Referring to Mandela by his clan name, he added: "Now without Madiba I feel like I don't have a chance.
"The rich will get richer and simply forget about us. The poor don't matter to them. Look at our politicians, they are nothing like Madiba."
In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate said Mandela would want South Africans themselves to be his "memorial'' by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
"All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration,'' Tutu said, recalling how Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid, the cruel system of white minority rule, and prepared for all-race elections in 1994.
In those elections, Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, became South Africa's first black president.
"God, thank you for the gift of Madiba,'' said Tutu in his closing his prayer, using Mandela's clan name.
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 humour who took interest in people around him, said FW 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.
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.
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The liberation struggle icon's grandson, Mandla Mandela, said he was strengthened by the knowledge that his grandfather was 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," she said.
"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.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies