SOWETO (AFP) – Residents of Soweto, the bedrock of black resistance against apartheid rule, sang and danced as they paid their respects to the late peace icon Nelson Mandela outside his former home on Friday.
A small crowd of admirers, some dressed in the ruling ANC party’s yellow t-shirts, braved an unseasonal chilly summer morning to lay flowers outside Mandela’s former residence, which is now a museum and a popular tourist attraction.
Also preparations began Friday for the state funeral of South Africa’s liberation hero Nelson Mandela, as the world mourned the peace icon’s passing.
Heads of state from around the world, including US President Barack Obama, and well-known personalities who were close to the statesman like Oprah Winfrey and Bill and Hillary Clinton are expected to attend.
Unofficial government sources have said he could be laid to rest on December 14, though some are calling for his burial to take place on the 16th, a public holiday named Reconciliation Day.
More details on the funeral are due to be released later on Friday.
The gathering of world leaders will be one of the largest in South Africa since Mandela was inaugurated as its first black president in 1994.
Mandela, who died late Thursday after a long battle against lung infection, will lie in state at the seat of government the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria.
A period of mourning will precede the 95-year-old’s burial, during which the country’s flags will fly at half-mast.
South Africans are also expected to mark his death at official memorial services across the country, including at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, the host stadium of the 2010 World Cup final where Mandela made his last major public appearance.
Both houses of parliament will be recalled from recess for a special joint sitting in honour of Mandela’s legacy.
After an official state funeral in Pretoria, his body will be flown to the Eastern Cape province, the hilly rural area where he was born and grew up.
He will be buried in a private ceremony in Qunu, next to the remains of his family, including three deceased children.
The children’s graves were the subject of a bitter court feud between Mandela’s grandson Mandla and other relatives, including his current wife Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Mandla had moved the remains without his relatives’ consent in 2011, in what they called an effort to force his grandfather’s last resting place from his childhood village Qunu to his birthplace Mvezo around 30 kilometres (18 miles) away.
The court ordered the remains to be returned to Qunu.
In recent years authorities rushed to renovate the nearby Mthatha airport and roads leading to Qunu as Mandela’s health deteriorated and the prospect of large funeral proceedings loomed.
At times the mourners spontaneously burst into song, cheering and dancing as music blared from a nearby car stereo in a celebration of the revered statesman’s life.
“A life well lived,” said 38-year-old doctor Mahlodi Tau, remembering her hero.
“He has finished the race and he fought a good fight,” she said, still dressed in her running slacks, quoting the apostle Paul from the Bible.
Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president after battling white-minority apartheid, died late on Thursday following a protracted lung infection.
He lived in the Soweto house with then-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela before he went underground in the early 1960s.
On his release after 27 years in prison he briefly returned to the house in Vilakazi Street, in the blacks-only area’s Orlando suburb.
The Nobel peace laureate spent the final years of his life living in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
Many Soweto mourners said they had dreaded the inevitable, though the ailing statesman’s poor health in recent years had prepared many for his approaching death.
“Over 95 years, it’s not child’s play. We dreaded this day when the gentle giant was going to die,” said Sifisi Mnisi, who scribbled messages on his car honouring the “father of the nation”.
“My Black President”, “You fought against black and white domination, dankie (thank you) son”, were some of the tributes he wrote in black and red markers.
Beautician Cynthia Mmusi, 35, said she would dedicate the coming weeks to Mandela’s memory.
“We are what we are because of Tata. He meant everything to us,” she said, using a term of endearment for Mandela that means ‘father’. “He was like a father to all of us. We are going to celebrate his life the whole of December,” said Mmusi, after keeping vigil outside the house throughout the night with her three-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.
“There is no need to cry, we are celebrating,” added Dean Gulwa, a member of the South African Communist party, which is in a ruling alliance with Mandela’s ANC