South Africa unites in prayer for Mandela

Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela died late on Thursday at the age of 95 after protracted illness.

Nelson Mandela once again united South Africans today as people irrespective of their colour and creed flocked into churches, mosques and temples to mark a 'Day of prayers' for the anti-apartheid icon.

The 'National Day of Prayer and Reflection' started off an official programme of mourning, including a memorial service at a Johannesburg stadium on Tuesday, culminating in a state funeral on December 15 at Mandela's Eastern Cape ancestral home of Qunu, expected to be one of the biggest gatherings of world leaders in decades.

At the Bryanston Methodist Church here, President Jacob Zuma, Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and other members of the Mandela family, including his grandson Mandla, attended a service for Mandela.

Members of the congregation lifted their hands in praise during singing while dozens of children sat on the floor in the front of the church.

Mandela, South Africa's first black president who steered his nation out of apartheid and into multi-race democracy, died late on Thursday at the age of 95 after protracted illness.

At the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, priest Sebastian Roussouw said Mandela had been "a light in the darkness".

A national memorial service is due to be held on Tuesday and is expected to be the biggest such gathering in recent history with US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle among 80,000 people attending the event at the FNB Stadium in

Johannesburg that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.

Speaking for the first time after Mandela's demise, his family expressed their sadness at losing a humble, caring man.

"Tata (father) is gone," family spokesman Temba Matanzima told journalists here yesterday.

"His presence was like a baobab tree that provided a comforting shade that served as protection and security for us," he said.

"The pillar of the family is gone, just as he was away during that 27 painful years of imprisonment."

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