JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As Nelson Mandela’s family grieves the loss of their revered patriarch, the outpouring of support from around the world lessens the pain and sorrow of his death, a family spokesman said.
Public memorials for Mandela are taking place in many countries Sunday, with South Africans joining in a national day of prayer and reflection in honor of their former president and national hero.
But the Mandela family has remained largely quiet, gathering together at the Johannesburg house where the former South African president died Thursday night.
Mandela, who was 95 years old and suffered recurring lung infections and other complications, is said to not have spoken for several months before his death.
In a statement on behalf of the family, Lt.-Gen. Temba Templeton Matanzima said there is comfort in knowing that the world “so deeply shares our sense of loss.”
“We are melancholy but we do not despair,” he said at a briefing Sunday. “Instead, we are filled with hope.”
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King Buyelekhaya Zwelibanzi Dalindyebo, ruler of the Thembu tribe — which includes the Mandelas — paid a visit to the house Sunday “to comfort and counsel,” Matanzima said.
President Jacob Zuma, as part of official activities for the national day of prayer, attended a Methodist church service in a wealthy area of northern Johannesburg. In an address he asked South Africans to reflect on Mandela’s life lessons.
“He stood for freedom. He fought against those who oppressed others. He wanted everyone to be free,” Zuma said.
“He did not realize this and stand in one place — he actively participated in removing the oppressor, to liberate the people of this country.”
Also at the Methodist church were Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and eldest grandson Mandla Mandela, along with Oprah Winfrey’s partner Stedman Graham.
A range of international celebrities and past and present heads of government are expected to arrive in South Africa for memorial events that begin Tuesday.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, minister of international cooperation, said that 53 heads of state have confirmed they will attend a public memorial service Tuesday at the 95,000-seat FNB Stadium in Soweto.
From the United States, President Barack Obama and wife Michelle will be attending, along with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their spouses, and 26 Congressmen.
“All systems go as far as we are concerned,” Nkoana-Mashabane said. “The day belongs to him. And we are all here to be the support and strength that the family requires of us.”
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Among the world leaders likely not coming to pay respects is the Dalai Lama, who on Sunday told Agence France-Presse that he would not attend Mandela’s funeral, without elaborating on the reasons.
The Tibetan spiritual leader has twice been denied visas to South Africa, prompting accusations that the South African authorities had bowed to Chinese pressure to prevent him from visiting.
Nkoana-Mashabane wouldn’t answer directly when asked if South Africa would grant a visa to the Dalai Lama should he decide to attend.
With preparations for the deluge of international visitors underway, many of the arrangements for the official memorial service are similar to those during the soccer World Cup, which South Africa hosted in 2010.
As with the “fan parks” set up during the World Cup, some 90 venues will open around the country with large TV screens showing a live feed of the memorial service.
An extensive public transport plan is in place for mourners traveling to the stadium in Soweto, as well as to overflow venues.
While previously the government had said members of the public would require accreditation to view Mandela’s casket during the three days he lies in state in Pretoria, officials now say all those who line up for a shuttle service to the site will be allowed to visit.