South Africans from all religions were united Sunday in prayer and reflection, as hundreds of services were held across the country in honour of national icon Nelson Mandela. Government designated Sunday a nationwide day of prayer to mark the formal start of a week-long state memorial, which will culminate in a funeral service at Mandela’s ancestral village of Qunu on December 15.

President Jacob Zuma joined prayers in a Methodist Church in Johannesburg, while former president Thabo Mbeki attended a service in a synagogue.

Hundreds of people were expected at the country’s largest Catholic church in township Soweto, as well as in Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s Anglican St George’s cathedral in Cape Town.

A close friend of Mandela’s, parliamentarian Bantu Holomisa, for the first time recounted the last moments he spent with South Africa’s “father of the nation,” who died Thursday evening surrounded by family in his home in Johannesburg.

Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, his ex-wife Winnie 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, referring to Mandela by his clan name.

“Then I nodded to Mama Graca and Winnie and asked the doctors to take me out (of the room),” he added.

According to South African newspaper Sunday Times, the former freedom fighter was not on a life support machine but breathing on his own before he died.

The days since Mandela’s death have not been easy for his relatives, said family spokesman Themba Mathanzima.

“His presence was like a baobab tree that provided a comforting shade that served as protection and security for us. The pillar of the family is gone,” he said.

As the number of global heads of states and dignitaries expected to attend the apartheid fighter’s memorial service is growing, government said it was preparing to meet the “logistical challenge” to arrange the burial of the nation’s first black president.

A list of international leaders expected to attend will be announced later on Sunday, officials said.

French President Francois Hollande, US President Barack Obama, former US presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Jimmy Carter as well as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon already confirmed their attendance.

More than 2,500 journalists from around the world have been accredited to cover the events.

Meanwhile Mandela’s body was being prepared by medical teams for a lying-in-state to begin Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of people were first expected to flock Tuesday to the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg for a memorial service for Mandela.

Additional sites are being set up around the country to accommodate the droves expected to turn out despite the government declining to announce an official public holiday. .. see more

source: voice of russia