JOHANNESBURG - South Africa will hold a period of mourning unparalleled in the nation’s history, as the world marks the death of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. South Africans have already made pilgrimages to his Johannesburg homes to leave flowers, candles and notes celebrating the life of the man credited with ending South Africa’s racist apartheid system. In the coming week, the government plans to honor him on a grand scale.
South Africa’s government plans to remember the nation’s first black president with events that celebrate his life while also addressing the deep void that many South Africans feel.
“Death is something inevitable.When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people&his country,he can rest in peace” #Madiba— NelsonMandela (@NelsonMandela) December 5, 2013
Mandela, who died late Thursday at the age of 95, will be laid to rest on Sunday, December 15, in a family ceremony in his ancestral home in the rural Eastern Cape town of Qunu.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who appeared haggard on Friday, said the nation will hold several events in the week before the burial.
Like many South Africans, Zuma referred to the anti-apartheid icon by his clan name, Madiba.
“We will spend the week mourning his passing," he said."We will also spend it celebrating a life well-lived, a life that we must all emulate for the betterment of our country and Africa. Long live Madiba.”
The week of events begins this coming Sunday, with a national day of prayer. On Tuesday, the government will hold an official memorial service at a stadium in Johannesburg. That event is expected to draw massive crowds.
The White House says President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will travel to South Africa next week to pay respects to Mandela.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday the Obamas will participate in memorial events, adding that he will announce more details when they become available.
Every living U.S. president is expected to attend Mr. Mandela's funeral, health permitting.
His body will next lie in state for three days in Pretoria’s Union Buildings, where Mandela worked as South Africa’s first black president. At the same time, South Africa’s provinces will hold their own memorial services.
Mandela’s death has been marked around the world, and many dignitaries and world leaders are expected to converge on South Africa in coming days.
The United Nations held a full minute of silence. U.S. President Barack Obama rushed out of a Hanukah dinner at the White House to call Mandela “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will ever share time with on this earth.”
Britain’s Prince William, who learned of Mandela’s death at the glitzy London premiere of a Hollywood biopic about Mandela, said the death of the icon was "extremely sad and tragic.”
His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II - who Mandela called “my friend, Elizabeth” - said she was “deeply saddened.”
Zuma acknowledged the swift and overwhelming international reaction to Mandela’s death.
“The outpouring of love that we experienced locally and abroad was unprecedented," he said. "It demonstrates the caliber of a leader that Madiba was. We will always love Madiba for teaching us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger in order to create a new nation and a new society.”
The emotional peak of the next week is expected to come at Tuesday’s ceremony in the Soweto soccer stadium that hosted the first and last games of the World Cup in 2010.
That stadium was also the scene of Mandela’s last public appearance. On the final night of the World Cup, he took to the soccer pitch to wave at the crowd of nearly 85,000 spectators gathered there for the match.
Slowly, the frail, white-haired old man made his way around the field on a little golf cart. He waved, and smiled - and the entire stadium went wild with joy.
Interactive Timeline: The Life of Nelson Mandela