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Mandela: Day of prayer marks start of official week of mourning

ON a hillside above Soweto people dressed in white robes were clustered in groups, and from across the slope trickled the sound of women singing.

The members of the Johane Masowe Jerusalem Apostolic congregation do not have an actual church building. So twice a week, rain or shine, they gather on this scruffy piece of wasteland, take off their shoes and hold a service of prayers and hymns. And this Sunday, there were special words and songs for Nelson Mandela.

Three days after the death of the 95-year-old former President, millions of people across South Africa turned out in a day of prayer, giving thanks for his life and reflecting on his contribution to the nation. In churches and mosques, community halls and synagogues, huge numbers turned out on a day that marked the start of the official programme of mourning.

On Wednesday, Mr Mandela's body will be taken to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the official home of the government, where it will lie in state for three days. It remains unclear whether his casket will be open or closed.

At the Bryanston Methodist church in Johannesburg yesterday, Mr Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and one of his grandsons, Mandla Mandela, listened to an address from President Jacob Zuma, who urged South Africans not to lose sight of the values of the late president.

One of the liveliest services yesterday was held at the cavernous Regina Mundi church in Soweto, where upwards of 2,000 people squeezed inside. There, Father Sebastian J Rossouw described Mr Mandela as "moonlight," saying he offered a guiding light for South Africa.

"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 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.

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