South Africa is set for a week of mourning after the death of Nelson Mandela, the most universally loved and revered leader in history, through a series of events to celebrate his life.
The president, Jacob Zuma, announced an extended schedule of activities, befitting Mandela’s status as South Africa’s most beloved son, starting with a day of prayer on Sunday and culminating in a state funeral expected to rival that of Pope John Paul II in 2005.
“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 Zuma, anticipating the massive logistical challenge ahead.
The president announced a memorial service to be held at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, the venue of the 2010 World Cup final, on Tuesday 10 December, which is expected to be broadcast around the world. Mandela’s body will then lie in state in Pretoria for three days, in a glass-topped coffin allowing well-wishers to pay their respects. A funeral will be held on 15 December, attended by world leaders including David Cameron, Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Mandela’s final resting place will be the modest village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, a place where Mandela wrote in his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, that he had spent “some of the happiest years of my boyhood”.
People surround the statue of Nelson Mandela at the South African embassy in Washington DC after his death was announced.
The strength and breadth of Mandela’s global appeal was reflected by the range of tributes from world leaders, piling up with every minute that passed after his death at home in Johannesburg at 8.50pm (18.50 GMT) on Thursday night.
Presidents and prime ministers, from Washington to Beijing, Havana to Delhi, from Jerusalem to the West Bank, all claimed to draw inspiration from the South African legend. Mandela set a benchmark for statesmanship against which all others have been measured.
It is not just the powerful who mourn his death. Many people, interviewed around the world, expressed their sense of loss, and in many places gathered to pay their respects.
An impromptu shrine sprang up in London’s Trafalgar Square as people left flowers outside the South African embassy, scenes of countless anti-apartheid protests during his long imprisonment.
In Kiev, where Ukrainians have gathered for anti-government demonstrations around the clock for the past week, protesters took a moment to recall Mandela’s legacy.
“He had many troubles in his life. He was in prison, but he was waiting and he achieved what he wanted,” said Alena Pivovar, an anti-government protester. “We have the same situation now. We have some barriers, but we have to pass them.”
In New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood, Franco Gaskin, 85, an artist, stood before a mural featuring Mandela that he had painted on a shop front almost 20 years ago. He remembered Mandela visiting there in 1990. “It was dynamic, everyone was so electrified to see him in Harlem,” Gaskin said. “I idolised him. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow.”
In his home country, where Mandela’s death was felt most keenly, many South Africans voiced anxieties about the future of a nation without an adored father figure who made reconciliation and dignity the twin pillars of his political philosophy.
Mandela sought to follow in the footsteps of earlier heroes of peaceful resistance such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but not even they were lionised around the globe by so many leaders from such a wide ideological spectrum.
America’s first black president paid tribute to Mandela in a sombre statement delivered from the White House. Barack Obama described the personal inspiration he had drawn from the man he called Madiba.
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life,” said a visibly moved Obama. “And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.”
The US president, who met Mandela once as a senator but was prevented from visiting him during a trip to South Africa in June by his illness, has been reluctant to over-emphasise the comparisons, but revealed how much his own political career had been influenced by the anti-apartheid struggle.
“My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid,” said Obama. “I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.”
In China, Mandela’s mantle was claimed by both the Communist regime, which had backed the anti-apartheid struggle, and opposition activists, who now seek to emulate it. President Xi Jinping, who supported opponents of apartheid throughout the cold war, praised Mandela’s victory in the struggle and his contribution to “the cause of human progress”.
Human rights activists pointed out that Mandela’s life and death were a reminder of the struggles of homegrown advocates for democracy and an open society, such as the imprisoned Nobel peace prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo.
“This moment magnifies how evil the current regime is,” Hu Jia, an activist said.
In the Middle East, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, found rare common cause in paying homage.
“He was never haughty,” Netanyahu said. “He worked to heal rifts within South African society and succeeded in preventing outbreaks of racial hatred.”
Abbas said Mandela was a “symbol of freedom from colonialism and occupation” and his death was a great loss for Palestine, whose cause he championed.
“The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free,” Abbas said.
Many Palestinians and international observers have drawn parallels between Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the apartheid regime in South Africa, and Mandela was frequently cited as an inspirational hero for Palestinians.
Abbas described Mandela as the “most courageous and important of those who supported us”. He added: “The name Mandela will stay forever with Palestine and with all Palestinians.”
In Iran, the official English-language Twitter account of the president, Hassan Rouhani, said: “With a heavy heart, we say goodbye to Nelson Mandela. Surely, his legacy will remain a source of inspiration and courage.”
Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, referenced his country’s own independence leader, Gandhi. “A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come. I join all those who are praying for his soul.”
Gandhi spent formative years as a political activist in South Africa and Mandela knew Gandhi’s son Manilal, historians pointed out.
In London, David Cameron said Mandela was a towering figure: “A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death, a true global hero. Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace. Meeting him was one of the great honours of my life.”