JOHANNESBURG — Former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died in Johannesburg Thursday at the age of 95, will be buried on Dec. 15 in his rural home village of Qunu, following a period of national mourning.
Mandela’s body will lie in state from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 at the government’s executive headquarters in the Union Buildings in the capital, Pretoria, President Jacob Zuma told reporters Friday. A memorial service will be held at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Dec. 10.
Mandela, widely known by his clan name Madiba, became the South Africa’s first black president in 1994, leading the nation out of racial discord by encouraging reconciliation. He had been ill for about a year and spent several stints in the hospital to be treated for a lung infection. He died peacefully at his Johannesburg home at 8:50 p.m. local time Thursday surrounded by his family, Zuma said.
“We will spend the week mourning his passing,” Zuma said. “We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived, a life that we must emulate for the betterment of our country. We always loved Madiba for teaching us that it was possible to overcome hatred and anger in order to build a new nation and a new society.”
Zuma declared Dec. 8 as a national day of prayer and reflection. Memorial services will be held in all nine provinces in the week preceding the funeral.
In Qunu, located almost 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Johannesburg, well-wishers and local chiefs came to pay their respects.
“I have no words,” Pal Setsetse, who works for an engineering company in Johannesburg, said after placing a bunch of flowers outside the gate of the house. “It is a very sad day. We have lost a very great man.”
Mandela, who was married three times, had six children, three of whom died and are buried in Qunu.
At Mandela’s Johannesburg home, the atmosphere was one of a “somber mood, a reflective mood, but also it’s a mood where people in the house recognize the importance Madiba played,” Max Sisulu, the speaker of Parliament, told reporters outside the residence Friday. “In the house, every bit of the furniture reminds us of him — his favorite chair, everything.”
About 400 people gathered Friday outside the home in the suburb of Houghton, with some singing and holding up portraits of the nation’s first black president. Residents also gathered in Vilakazi Street in Soweto, a township southwest of Johannesburg, where Mandela lived before being imprisoned for fighting against racial segregation.
About 2,500 people gathered for an inter-faith prayer service on Cape Town’s grand parade, where Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison.
“He really is such an icon for the nation,” Rachael Shear, 16, said in an interview after coming to pay her respects with her 13-year-old sister, Liat. “From what I learned at school, the difference he made to South Africa, taking us out of our apartheid state to where we are today, South Africa wouldn’t be as it is unless we had him.”
Mandela urged reconciliation after he was released from jail in 1990 and negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with F.W. de Klerk, the last white president.
“We are grateful for what he has done for us,” Ntsiki Mthembu, who estimates she is older than 60, said in an interview outside the building in Vilakazi street, which is now a museum. “Now he must rest in peace. It’s sad, but he lived his life to the fullest and we are all free.”
After a single five-year term as president, Mandela became a champion in the fight against AIDS, disclosing that one of his sons died from the disease. He retired from public life in 2004 and was last seen publicly at the soccer World Cup in Johannesburg three years ago.
“I don’t think people in South Africa realize the real importance of Mandela as an icon outside South Africa,” said Johannes de Kruijf, a social anthropology lecturer from Utrecht University in the Netherlands who was attending a conference in Cape Town and drove nearly 1,000 kilometers to Qunu to pay his respects. “He is one of the last massive iconic figures of the 20th century. He is such an inspiration. He reminds you of how things should be done.”
Fellow Nobel Peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 82, called on South Africans to unify as they mourn Mandela.
“What is going to happen now our father has died? Does it spell doomsday and disaster for us?” Tutu told reporters in Cape Town. “Some have suggested that after he is gone, as he is now gone, our country is going to go up in flames. This is to discredit us as South Africans, to discredit his legacy. The sun will go up tomorrow. Life will carry on.”
Brand and Cohen reported from Cape Town. Contributors: Christopher Spillane, Paul Burkhardt, Kevin Crowley, Rene Vollgraaff, Amogelang Mbatha and Janice Kew in Johannesburg.
© 2013, Bloomberg News