The death of Nelson Mandela: In churches, mosques, synagogues and halls, they came to pray for Madiba

Millions of South Africans unite in a day of remembrance

Soweto

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 today, there were special words and songs for Nelson Mandela.

“We prayed that he has a peaceful rest. He was a great man,” said one of the group’s priests, Hapson Mazoyo. “We pray that we have more leaders like him.”

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.

Read more:

The death of Nelson Mandela: In churches, mosques, synagogues and halls, they came to pray for Madiba

The death of Nelson Mandela: ‘The politicians live in their palaces; the rest of us do not see any of this wealth’

Nelson Mandela was no terrorist, says Justin Welby

Already, at least 53 heads of state and government have said they will attend either a memorial service to be held tomorrow at a sports stadium in Soweto or else the funeral due to take place on Sunday at Mr Mandela’s ancestral home in Qunu. Barack Obama, David Cameron and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be among those at tomorrow’s memorial; Prince Charles will attend the funeral.

Officials in South Africa say the funeral will be among the biggest to be held in anywhere in the world in recent years. Logistics for the event are likely to be extremely complicated.

On Wednesday, Mr Mandela’s body will be taken to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, 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.

Among those attending religious services yesterday were members of Mr Mandela’s family. At the Bryanston Methodist church in Johannesburg, 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 the late President had stood for.

“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,” said Mr Zuma. “But it is also to pray for our nation, to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for.”

One of the liveliest of the thousands of such services was held at the cavernous Regina Mundi church in Soweto, one of the biggest Catholic churches in the country, where upwards of 2,000 people squeezed inside to hear the priest, Sebastian Rossouw, describe Mr Mandela as a guiding light.

The church, built in 1964, is celebrated for its role as a sanctuary during the Soweto uprisings. On 16 June 1976, after police killed 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, dozens of students fled inside, only for police to burst in.

“He was an icon,” the church’s guide, Danny Dube, said of Mr Mandela, and he pointed out the bullet holes in the ceiling caused by the police that day when they stormed in and opened fire with live ammunition. “He brought people together.”

The people in the white robes, gathered on the hillside just a few miles away, said they believed they could communicate with God just as easily without a church building. Like many others yesterday, the church members, followers of the late Johane Masowe, a Zimbabwean man they consider a prophet, were quick to stress the salve religion had provided during the country’s difficult times.

They said their day of prayer typically started at 9am and went on until 3pm, but that often they carried on into the evening. On Sunday morning, they said, they had sung renditions of the famed African independence anthem “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika”, or “Lord Bless Africa”.

Many of the group were migrants from neighbouring Zimbabwe who had travelled to South Africa for work and found hard-scrabble jobs as tailors or as domestic workers in homes in Soweto or other nearby townships. Most appeared to have family members still living in Zimbabwe.

“I came here in 2008 because my husband died and I had to bring up three children,” said Abigail Dza Dza, as a dark sky overhead threatened rain. “I felt welcome when I came here.”

Doris Mnube, 42, had come in the mid-1990s, a time when she could not find any work in Zimbabwe. She said her mother, two sisters and a son were still there. She said Mr Mandela was responsible for helping provide schools for the migrants and for giving them pensions. “He accepted us. He gave us education,” she said.

A third woman in the group, younger than the others she was sitting with, declared: “We are living here in peace because of Mandela. But now we are worrying we might get sent back.”

The memorial service for Mr Mandela is to take place tomorrow at the FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City, located close to where the groups had gathered. The service is due to start at 11am but gates will open five hours before.

While the stadium has a capacity of just under 95,000, the authorities are to set up screens and overflow venues for those unable to get inside. Buses will bring in people from across the country.

Hapson Mazoyo, the priest, said he doubted he would be attending the service. But he said he expected many of those gathered in prayer on the hillside may do. He said: “It will be for ordinary people.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?