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Updated: Sun, 08 Dec 2013 01:22:19 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Nelson Mandela 'a great man,' family says



Mourners Nozuko Yokwana (© L-R)

Mourners Nozuko Yokwana (L-R), Chief Nokwanele Bhalizulu, Mzwandile Vena and Nozilile Mtirara light a flame in honour of former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu December 7, 2013. South Africans united in mourning for Mandela on Friday, but while some celebrated his remarkable life with dance and song, others fretted that the anti-apartheid hero's death would leave the nation vulnerable again to racial and social tensions. REUTERS/Rogan Ward (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS OBITUARY) - RTX167Y3 Rogan Ward/Reuters

Nelson Mandela's family has released its first statement since the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon died two days ago.

“We have lost a great man, a son of the soil whose greatness in our family was in the simplicity of his nature in our midst — a caring family leader who made time for all and on that score we will miss him dearly,” the family said through a spokesman, Temba Matanzia, who read from a statement in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Matanzima said the past two days have not been easy, but the expressions of love and affection have been comforting.

Leaders from around the world will soon be arriving in South Africa to pay their respects to Mandela as tributes continue, leading up to a state funeral planned for next weekend.

A memorial flame was lit on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, Mandela's rural ancestral hometown.

"The flame, it symbolizes a multiplicity of things," said Nozuko Yokwana, chair of the Nelson Mandela Museum, who called the esteemed former president a "beacon of light" and a "beacon of hope."

"His character, his behaviour, his leadership, his values and principles. It also says to us that we cannot stop now just because he is gone, but we must continue to light the nation, to do things that we have been doing, and strengthen ourselves and motivate ourselves," she said.

South African President Jacob Zuma has declared a week of mourning for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, which will include several services, ending with burial in Qunu on Dec. 15.

A national day of prayer and reflection has been declared for Sunday.  

South Africa is readying itself for the arrival of a flood of world leaders for the memorial service and funeral for Mandela as thousands of mourners continued to flock to sites around the country to pay homage.

Among those who have already indicated that they will be travelling to South Africa to honour Mandela, who died at his Johannesburg home at the age of 95 on Thursday night, are U.S. President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will leave Ottawa on Sunday for Johannesburg. Harper had invited prime ministers he succeeded to travel with him, and on Saturday, the Prime Minister's Office confirmed the Canadian delegation will include Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell and Brian Mulroney.

Several of the former prime ministers of Canada had ties to Mandela. Brian Mulroney spearheaded Canada's efforts to free Mandela from prison and pressure South Africa to end apartheid. Jean Chretien lived in 24 Sussex Drive when Mandela was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2001.

Former prime minister Paul Martin was invited, but has a large public meeting with the Inuit scheduled in Labrador on Monday. His spokesperson says he would have liked to have gone and feels badly.

The CBC's Margaret Evans, who is among the throng outside Mandela's home in Houghton, said people are continuing to mourn his death, but also celebrate the life of the esteemed former president.

"Two times I was here, where both times people were worried and knew he was struggling with a lung condition. The mood was much more sombre, with people praying either for him to recover or to finally let him go.

"Since I've been back, this time, the mood is much more celebratory. [They say] we can mourn him, but we must also celebrate his achievements. People are singing, pictures are everywhere," she said.

Members of the British House of Commons will take part in a special tribute to Mandela on Monday.

New Westminster Hall will hear speeches from anti-apartheid protesters who kept Mandela in the spotlight during his many years in prison, CBC's Ann MacMillan reported from London on Saturday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron plans to travel to South Africa next week.

MacMillan said a "senior royal" will be flying there as well, "probably Prince Charles," although it remains unclear who will go or which event they will attend.

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