South Africa Prepares Epic Memorial for Mandela

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South Africa is preparing an epic tribute to former president Nelson Mandela as tens of thousands, including heads of state from around the world, are planning to attend Tuesday's four-hour memorial service.

The country began a week of formal mourning for its beloved leader on Sunday.

After the memorial, Mandela's body will lie in state from Wednesday to Friday. He will be buried in the village where he grew up on Dec. 15

In order to accommodate everyone who wants to attend, the memorial service will be held in First National Bank soccer stadium that seats 95,000. The stadium is where Mandela made his last public appearance, at the closing ceremony for the 2010 World Cup. 

More than 90 heads of state are traveling to South Africa to pay their respects, including former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura Bush, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama left Monday morning. Obama will speak at Tuesday's service.

Meanwhile, young and old alike are remembering Mandela's legacy.

"I'm here to celebrate the life of Madiba," 11-year-old Sibongile Dukuza said. "He fought for us, for freedom. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here."

Outside Mandela's home a crowd gathered to remember him. One woman brought her family to celebrate the man who helped bring an end to apartheid, a brutal system of racial segregation in South Africa.

"We could easily have had a revolution and here we are now all living happily together, which is something like a miracle and it's all due to Madiba," Michele Marija said.

For now, South Africans are finding strength in each other, as they collectively mourn a leader who brought reconciliation like no other.

"What is carrying us is the spirit of the people around the world and here in South Africa. Down in the streets, in the townships, in the suburbs, people are uniting, holding hands, helping each other," Mac Maharaj, a friend of Mandela, said.

In addition to floral and written tributes, mourners are also releasing doves, which symbolize peace and joy.

In South Africa, Sunday was a national day of prayer for the anti-apartheid leader who became the country's first black president. The day was marked by grief and celebration as churches and houses of worship across the nation offered prayers and song.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.