Johannesburg: South Africa on Saturday began preparations to host leaders from across the world set to converge on the country to pay respect to Nelson Mandela during memorial events to be held in the ten days of mourning for the anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela`s memorial service on Tuesday at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg is expected to be one of the largest such gatherings in generations.
South African President Jacob Zuma announced the mourning period after Mandela died yesterday at the age of 95 following a protracted illness.
Mandela`s body will lie in state at the seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, for three days before the state funeral in his childhood home of Qunu on December 15.
On these three days, the body will be taken in a cortege through the streets of Pretoria from a mortuary to the place where it will lie in state.
Sunday, December 8, has been declared as a national day of prayer and reflection. Memorial events for the statesman who dismantled the apartheid regime and served as South Africa`s first black President will be held across the country during December 11-13.
"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," said a statement from the presidency.
"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 (Mandela`s clan name) and his contribution to our country and the world."
Leaders from across the world are expected to pay their respect to Mandela and at least three American presidents, including Barack Obama, will travel to South Africa to attend memorial events.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama and the First Lady would "participate in memorial events", without giving details. The Obamas will be joined on Air Force One by former President George W Bush and wife Laura Bush.
Former President Bill Clinton said he too planned to travel to South Africa with his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Preparations to bid adieu to Mandela were underway in his childhood village of Qunu, where residents were awaiting the final return of their beloved son.
Across South Africa, people poured into the streets, many of them draped in the green, yellow and black flags of Mandela`s African National Congress party, singing and dancing to celebrate his life.
At many places vigils were held to mourn the leader`s demise. Large crowds spent a second night on the streets to pay tribute and remember Mandela`s legacy.
Hundreds of people gathered outside Mandela`s home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, and thousands of flowers laid outside resembled a wall. They shared memories of the leader, recounting how they drew inspiration from his life.
A stage was erected near the house, from which priests led the crowd in prayers. One of his grandsons, Mbuso Mandela, laid wreaths in his grandfather`s memory.
Tributes continued to pour in from all parts of the world. North Korea sent its condolences to South Africa today, praising Mandela`s "struggle against racism and for democracy".
Zimbabwe`s President Robert Mugabe paid tribute by saying, "Mr Mandela`s renowned political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence."
There will be a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, on Monday to honour and commemorate the world peace icon.
Mandela, a lawyer and ex-boxer, spent 27 years in prison, most of them on Robben Island, after being convicted in the Rivonia trial with several others 50 years ago.
He stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as President following the first democratic elections in 1994. As President, Mandela worked to unite a polarised South Africa dominated by tribal politics. He devoted his energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.
Mandela had been in and out of hospital for the past two years with a range of medical problems. His public appearances became rare but he continued to hold a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world.