Cyril Ramaphosa, pictured above, Malusi Gigaba and Naledi Pandor emerged as the three most popular ANC leaders after Zuma was endorsed by structures to lead the party into the forthcoming general elections. File photo: Giyani Baloi

Johannesburg -

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday encouraged South Africans to emulate former president Nelson Mandela.

Speaking at interfaith prayers at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said Mandela had left ANC members with a legacy of loyalty, discipline, tolerance and unity.

President Jacob Zuma had been scheduled to speak at the event, but was held up with Mandela's memorial and burial plans, said Ramaphosa.

He said he was sure that Mandela would find members of the ANC waiting for him in heaven.

“Mandela will find a branch of the ANC,” said Ramaphosa.

“They will roll out a red carpet and say Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, welcome home.”

Mandela had once said that if he died and went to heaven, when he got there, he would search for a branch of the ANC.

ANC anti-apartheid stalwarts Oliver Tambo, Lilian Ngoyi, Joe Slovo, and Walter Sisulu would also be there, said Ramaphosa.

He hailed Madiba as the only leader who was able to bring change to the country and the world.

Ramaphosa encouraged people to celebrate Mandela's life.

“We must celebrate with the knowledge that he is going home,” said Ramaphosa.

Besides freedom, Mandela had brought education, housing and electricity to the people of South Africa.

Speaking about Mandela's passing, Ramaphosa said Madiba had prepared the nation for it.

“He had a plan to prepare us for him leaving us,” said Ramaphosa.

He said the nation was struck by sadness when Mandela was hospitalised earlier in the year but that was his way of letting the nation know that he was leaving soon.

The ailing former statesman died in his Houghton home on Thursday.

He was 95.

“He would have expected us to work diligently and continue to build this country,” said Ramaphosa.

Also at the event was the African National Congress Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile.

He said he chose to remember Mandela in song and spoke very briefly.

He sang along and danced as hymns were sung by the religious organisations.

“Today we are a free people, united in our diversity by Nelson Mandela,” said Mashatile.

Hundreds of people, mostly ANC members attended the service.

Most were in their ANC T-shirts as well as the ANC Women's League uniform.

Others were dressed in uniforms from their various churches.

The Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Baha'i and other African faiths were represented.

A large banner with a picture of a smiling Mandela hung from the arena's roof. Large posters with some of Mandela's quotes were placed at the front of the arena.

Religious speakers hailed Mandela as a good leader who had united the country.

“He believed religion was part of democracy,” said a Muslim man.

Mandela will be buried in the Eastern Cape on December 15. - Sapa