The world mourned South Africa’s beloved Nelson Mandela, whose universal appeal was evident once again in a global outpouring of grief for the anti-apartheid hero hailed as an “incredible gift” to humanity.
Mandela’s Rainbow Nation awoke to a future without its 95-year-old founding father after the country’s first black president died late on Thursday at his Johannesburg home, surrounded by friends and family.
President Jacob Zuma said an official mourning ceremony would be held on December 10 in Soweto followed by a burial in Mandela’s Eastern Cape hometown of Qunu on December 15.
His body will lie in state in the capital Pretoria from December 11-13.
As his compatriots paid lively tributes to the revered former statesman with flowers, songs and dance, admirers from all walks of life around the world joined in an outpouring of emotion, pondering Mandela’s legacy and remembering key moments in the icon’s life.
South Africa’s archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu – and fellow Nobel prize winner – praised Mandela as an “incredible gift that God gave us”.
In an address where he fought to hold back the tears, Tutu said his old friend was “a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison”.
Mandela spent 27 years in an apartheid prison before becoming president and unifying his country with a message of reconciliation after the end of white minority rule. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa’s last white president FW de Klerk in 1993.
Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all paid heartfelt tribute to Mandela, describing him as one of the towering figures of the 20th century who inspired young and old with his fight for equality.
US leader Barack Obama, his country’s own first black president, led a global roll call of commemorations.
“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” he said. “He achieved more than could be expected of any man.”
Flags flew at half-mast in numerous countries, including the US, France and Britain and at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower lit up in green, red, yellow and blue to symbolise the South African flag while India declared five days of mourning for a man the premier labelled “a true Gandhian”.
Mandela had waged a long battle against a recurring lung infection and had been receiving treatment at home since September following a lengthy hospital stay.
Outside his house in the upmarket Houghton suburb and at his former residence in the once blacks-only township of Soweto, scores of well-wishers danced and sang old songs of struggle to celebrate the man they lovingly call Madiba.
Some in Johannesburg rushed from their homes in their pyjamas after hearing of his passing, while many brought along children too young to have known the brutal and racist South Africa that Mandela fought to overcome.
“I did not come here to mourn. We are celebrating the life of a great man. A great unifier,” said local resident Bobby Damon.
Zuma said Mandela would be given a full state funeral expected to be attended by a slew of foreign leaders as well as celebrity and sports figures.
Mandela’s body was taken to a military hospital in Pretoria in preparation for lying in state.
While the ailing former statesman’s death had long been expected after a spate of hospitalisations, the announcement came as a shock nonetheless.
Mandela’s two youngest daughters were in London watching the premiere of his biopic Long Walk to Freedom – along with Britain’s Prince William – when they learned of his death.
Mandela’s eldest grandson expressed gratitude for the international outpouring of support.
“The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us,” said Mandla Mandela.