CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Nelson Mandela unified South Africans of all races and backgrounds Sunday on a day of prayer for the global statesman - from a vaulted cathedral with hymns and incense to a rural, hilltop church with goatskin 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," worshipers 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 Tuesday 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 Sunday, when Mandela is to be buried in his rural hometown of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.
Mandela wanted to die in those modest, traditional surroundings; instead, he died Thursday at age 95 in his home in an exclusive Johannesburg area. He was surrounded by family after months of a debilitating illness that required the constant care of a team of doctors.
Family friend Bantu Holomisa told the Associated Press that Mandela wasn't on life support in his final hours. He appeared to be sleeping calmly, but it was obvious that he was finally succumbing, added Holomisa, who said he saw Mandela about two hours before his death.
"I've seen people who are on their last hours and I could sense that he is now giving up," said Holomisa, who is the leader of the United Democratic Movement in parliament.
"You could see it is not Madiba anymore," Holomisa added, using Mandela's clan name. The government and Mandela's family have revealed few details about the death.
Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, joined one of his grandsons, Mandla Mandela, and South African President Jacob Zuma in a prayer service in Johannesburg.
Inside a church behind Mandela's property in the eastern village of Qunu, where he will be buried, about 50 people held a raucous, celebratory service. A robed man banged on a drum. Clapping men huddled as women danced on the concrete floor.
In an affluent, predominantly white suburb of Pretoria, parishioners prayed for Mandela at what was once a worship center for pro-apartheid government and business leaders.
The Rev. Niekie Lamprecht, pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church of Pretoria East, said Mandela was the driving force behind changes of attitude in the congregation's overwhelmingly white parishioners.
"He said, 'Let's forgive,' and he forgave. That created a space for people to feel safe," Lamprecht said.
Foreign dignitaries began arriving Sunday, and the government said more than 50 heads of state were expected. Those attending include President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Obamas will be joined at Tuesday's memorial by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are expected to attend one of the events, but it was not clear which one. The only other living U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, has been in frail health and will not make the trip.
Among the others expected are Prince Charles, representing Queen Elizabeth, and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Bono.
Here is the schedule
for the laying to rest of Nelson Mandela:
Tuesday: Official memorial service at the FNB Stadium in
Wednesday to Friday: Mandela's body will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Official memorial services will be held in all provinces and regions.
Sunday: State funeral, burial at Qunu, Eastern Cape province.