IN DEATH, Nelson Mandela unified South Africans of all races and backgrounds yesterday on a day of prayer for the global statesman - from a vaulted cathedral with hymns and incense, to a rural, hilltop church with goat-skin drums and barefoot dancing.

Mandela was remembered in old bedrocks of resistance to white domination as well as former bastions of loyalty to apartheid.

"May his long walk to freedom be enjoyed and realized in our time by all of us," worshippers said in a prayer at the majestic St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, where the first white settlers arrived centuries ago aboard European ships.

South Africa's reflection on Mandela's astonishing life was a prelude to a massive memorial in a Johannesburg stadium tomorrow that will draw world leaders and luminaries. They will gather to mourn, but also to salute the achievements of the prisoner who became president and an emblem of humanity's best instincts.

The extended farewell - a bittersweet mix of grief and celebration - ends Dec. 15, when Mandela is to be buried in his rural hometown of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.

The anti-apartheid giant died Thursday at his home in the Johannesburg area. He was 95 and surrounded by family after months of a debilitating illness that required constant care.

The death still came as a shock to many South Africans, so accustomed to the enduring presence of the monumental fighter, even when he retired from public life years ago and became increasingly frail.

In Johannesburg, hundreds swayed and sang at the Regina Mundi Church that was near the epicenter of the Soweto township uprising against white rule in 1976 and served as a refuge from security forces who fired tear gas around the building.