Nelson Mandela's family said on Sunday that it was filled with hope that he would live on through his example, in comments that came on a national day of prayer starting a week of memorial events expected to draw 59 heads of state to South Africa.
“We are melancholic, but we don't despair,” Mandela family spokesman Themba Mathanzima said. “Instead, we are filled with hope. He has left us enduring lessons and examples of what must be continued.”
“Let us pledge to keep Mandela's dream alive in the way in which we honour each other's humanity, the way in which we solve our most difficult problems, the way in which we lift up the poor, downtrodden and marginalised,” Mathanzima said.
The government said it was preparing to meet the “logistical challenge” to arrange the burial of the nation's first black president, as the number of global heads of states and dignitaries who plan to attend grows.
The Foreign Ministry's latest count of the heads of state expected stood at 59 on Sunday as Tuesday's memorial service at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg was to be broadcast on more than 90 big screens throughout the country to accommodate the South Africans who wish to say goodbye to the apartheid fighter and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Britain's Prince Charles had confirmed their travel plans, along with former US presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Jimmy Carter.
South African President Jacob Zuma called Mandela's death on Thursday an “unprecedented loss” to the country during a church service to honour the first post-apartheid president, who was elected in 1994 in South Africa's first multiracial democratic elections.
Zuma, who was flanked by Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and grandson, Mandla Mandela, said the man known as “the father of the nation” had fought for justice and equality for all. It was important “not to forget some of the values that he stood for, that he fought for, that he sacrificed his life for”, Zuma said.
He reminded the hundreds of people who had come to the service at the Methodist Church in the Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston that Mandela fought against both white and black domination.
Madikizela-Mandela, who seemed to have a hard time keeping her composure, did not address the congregation.
Ruling party member Jessie Duarte, who was Mandela's assistant, said one of the most remarkable things about the statesman was that he offered everyone his friendship. “Madiba was always quick to say he is not a saint,” she said during the service, referring to Mandela by his clan name. “He wanted to do things that would make people proud of him.”
The week-long state memorial began with the national day of prayer and is to culminate on December 15 with Mandela's funeral in his ancestral village of Qunu.
More than 2 500 journalists from around the world have been accredited to cover the events, while tens of thousands of South Africans were expected to flock to the FNB Stadium for Tuesday's memorial.
Meanwhile, Mandela's body was being prepared by medical teams for a lying-in-state to begin on Wednesday.
The body is to be moved from a mortuary in the capital, Pretoria, to the nearby Union Buildings, the official seat of government, on each day of the lying-in-state from Wednesday to Friday.
A traditional service is to take place quietly in Qunu on Saturday, followed by the larger state funeral and burial the day after. On December 16, Reconciliation Day, South Africa plans to unveil a new statue of Mandela at the Union Buildings, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said.
On Sunday, hundreds of people arrived at the country's largest Catholic church in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg as well as at Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's Anglican St George's Cathedral in Cape Town.
A close friend, lawmaker Bantu Holomisa, for the first time recounted the last moments he spent with Mandela, who died at the age of 95 surrounded by family in his home in Johannesburg.
Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, Madikizela-Mandela, as well as many of his children and grandchildren, were present. “I stood there. I saw Madiba is worse than he was,” Holomisa told local radio station Cape Talk.
“Then I nodded to Mama Graca and Winnie and asked the doctors to take me out” of the room.
According to the Sunday Times newspaper, the former freedom fighter was not on a life support machine but breathing on his own before he died. - Sapa-dpa