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Updated: Sun, 08 Dec 2013 11:22:35 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Nelson Mandela honoured with national day of prayer



Worshippers take part in a prayer tribute for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in the Meadowlands neighborhood of Soweto, Johannesburg December 8, 2013. South African anti-apartheid hero Mandela died aged 95 at his Johannesburg home on December 5 after a prolonged lung infection. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (© SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS OBITUARY RELIGION)

Worshippers take part in a prayer tribute for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in the Meadowlands neighborhood of Soweto, Johannesburg December 8, 2013. South African anti-apartheid hero Mandela died aged 95 at his Johannesburg home on December 5 after a prolonged lung infection. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: POLITICS OBITUARY RELIGION) - RTX169DP Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Tens of thousands of South Africans have been flocking to churches and other houses of worship across the country to remember Nelson Mandela. Today has been declared a national day of prayer and reflection to mark his death. 

At the Bryanston Methodist church in Johannesburg, President Jacob Zuma said Mandela has stood for freedom and that he fought to remove oppression.

"This is a solemn day of remembrance," said the CBC's Derek Stoffel from Johannesburg. "To reflect, to listen and to think about what Nelson Mandela meant to [each of] them."

Zuma called on South Africans to sing and dance to celebrate Mandela, who kept "the spirit of freedom alive" in his battle to end apartheid.

"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 had forgiven even those who had kept him in prison for 27 years, and that he had opposed both white and black domination.

At the famous Regina Mundi Church that was near the epicentre of the Soweto township uprising in 1976 against white rule, Father Sebastian J. Rossouw described Mandela as "moonlight," saying he offered a guiding light for South Africa. Hundreds of people attended the mass.

"Madiba did not doubt the light," Rossouw said. "He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone."

Outside of Mandela's former Soweto house, CBC reporter Kim Brunhuber describes the scene as "like a street carnival." 

"You can hear music, there are hawkers everywhere and you might hear bikers revving their engines ... so it's really like a street party in contrast to other places in the country."

During the service, worshippers offered special prayers for the anti-apartheid leader and lit a candle in his honour in front of the altar. Off to the side of the sanctuary was a black and white photo of Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95.

Ahmed Kathrada, who was sentenced to life in prison with Mandela in 1964, said he was informed shortly before Mandela's death on Thursday night that his old friend was about to die.

Kathrada said Graca Machel, Mandela's wife, conveyed the message to him through another person that "the doctors have said, `Anytime."'

Pastor Niekie Lamprecht of the Dutch Reformed Church of Pretoria East said the congregation's overwhelmingly white 1,600 parishioners have changed, and that Mandela himself was the driving force. The idea of showing a picture of him inside the church two decades ago would have been unthinkable.

"What helped the white people of South Africa was Mr. Mandela's attitude," Lamprecht said. "He said, 'Let's forgive,' and he forgave. That created a space for people to feel safe ... at a time when the expectation was that there was going to be a war."

A service was also held at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, where a prayer was said for a man whose journey from prisoner to president inspired the world.

"May his long walk to freedom be enjoyed and realized in our time by all of us," worshippers said in a prayer.

A national memorial service for the man who, as the country's first black president, forged a new multiracial, democratic South Africa will be held at a Johannesburg stadium on Tuesday.

Mandela's body will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, in the nation's capital, Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday, followed by his funeral and burial in the village where he spent his childhood in a remote rural part of the country next Sunday.

Three former PMs and former governor general Michaëlle Jean will accompany Prime Minister Stephen Harper to South Africa to pay their final respects to Mandela.

Harper is scheduled to leave Ottawa for Johannesburg at 5:00 p.m. ET Sunday. He will be joined by his wife, Laureen, and former prime ministers Jean Chrétien, Kim Campbell and Brian Mulroney.

Among others who have indicated they will be going to South Africa are U.S. President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also travel to Johannesburg for the memorial service.

Thembele Kepe, a professor at the University of Toronto who comes from the same clan and region of South Africa as Mandela, says there will be some tribal elements to the funeral.

"Just after the state funeral, they will remove the South African flag...and drape the coffin with a leopard skin," he told CBC News on Sunday.  "The leopard skin signifies authority [and] then they're going to have a shield. The shield symbolizes a defendant. He is seen as a defendant of the nation, as a prince."

Other leaders and dignitaries who have confirmed that they are coming include French President Francois Hollande, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, Cyprus' Parliamentary Speaker, Yiannakis Omirou, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Crown Prince Haakon of Norway.

King Willem-Alexander and Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans will attend on behalf of the Netherlands.

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