Johannesburg: Just as Nelson Mandela united South Africans of all races in life, his death is bringing them together to celebrate his exemplary journey and achievements rather than grieving over his passing.
Mandela died, aged 95, at his Johannesburg home on early today after a long illness.
As President Jacob Zuma announced funeral arrangements, masses of floral tributes were laid at venues across the country by members of all race groups, belying the tensions that some had feared after Mandela`s death.
At his former home in Soweto, streets were cordoned off as hundreds of residents and visitors gathered to celebrate the freedom that Mandela had brought them after he was elected the first democratic president in 1994 following 27 years as a political prisoner.
"We will do this all week to celebrate Madiba`s wonderful achievements," said neighbour Zinhle Tshabalala as he recalled how the then young Mandela would always be in a hurry when he came to or left his house.
At the massive Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton where there is a huge statue of Mandela in the courtyard, hundreds of bouquets and messages of gratitude were piling up today, including many sketches by children.
"I brought my children here so that memories of this day are etched into their minds forever," said Shanti Pillay as her children Sudeshan (6) and Loshni (10) placed flowers and candles on the site.
"He showed us that we can all live together side-by-side, unlike the many (South African) Indians who thought that we would be oppressed by the new ruling Black majority because we were a minority in South Africa," Pillay added.
Zuma announced that the state funeral would take place in Mandela`s ancestral home of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province on Sunday, December 15.
"We sincerely thank all South Africans for the dignified manner in which they have responded to the monumental loss of this international icon who was a symbol of reconciliation, unity, love, human rights and justice in our country and the world," Zuma said.
He added his thanks to the heads of state and governments, international organisations and eminent persons around the world who had sent messages of condolence and support to the family and all South Africans.
"We should all work together to organise the most befitting funeral for this outstanding son of our country and the father of our young nation," he said.
Zuma also declared Sunday, December 8 as a national day of prayer and reflection.
"We call upon all our people to gather in halls, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and in their homes for prayer services and meditation, reflecting on the life of Madiba and his contribution to our country and the world," he said.
The official memorial service will be held on December 10 at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
After that, Mandela`s remains will lie in state at the seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he served as the first President of a democratic South Africa.
"We will always love Madiba for teaching us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger in order to build a new nation and a new society," Zuma said.