South Africa begins day of prayer for Mandela

South Africans have flocked to houses of worship for a national day of prayer and reflection to honour former president Nelson Mandela.

The prayers mark the start of a series of events to commemorate the liberation struggle icon that will culminate in what is expected to be one of the biggest funerals in modern times.

A national memorial service for the man who, as the country's first black president, forged a new multiracial South Africa after helping to dismantle apartheid, will be held at a Johannesburg stadium on Tuesday.

His body will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, in the nation's capital, Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday, followed by his funeral and burial in the village where he spent his childhood in a remote rural part of the country next Sunday.

At the famous Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, Father Sebastian J. Rossouw described Mr Mandela as "moonlight," saying he offered a guiding light for South Africa. Hundreds of people attended mass in the small church.

"Madiba did not doubt the light," Mr Rossouw said. "He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone."

During the service, worshippers offered special prayers for the anti-apartheid leader and lit a candle in his honour in front of the altar. Off to the side of the sanctuary was a black and white photo of Mr Mandela, who died on Thursday at aged 95.

Scores of foreign leaders and other luminaries are expected to travel to South Africa to honour Mr Mandela.

Among those who have already indicated that they will be coming to South Africa are US president Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W Bush and Bill Clinton.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also travel to Johannesburg for the memorial service, the United Nations said.

"We felt it important that we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy," President Jacob Zuma said at a Methodist church service in Johannesburg. "But it is also to pray for our nation ... to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for."

Mr Zuma said Mr Mandela had forgiven even those who had kept him in prison for 27 years, and that he had opposed both white and black domination.

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