Nelson Mandela death: Giving thanks for 'Madiba'

Pastor Joel Serasengwe says today is a healing day

Bishop Mosa Sono summed up the mood in this extremely religious nation when he told thousands of worshippers at the Grace Bible Church in Soweto: "Thank God for Madiba."

An image of Nelson Mandela's face was displayed on the screen, while his famous "I'm prepared to die" speech from the Rivonia trial was played to the congregation, so numerous that plastic chairs had been set up outside the cavernous main hall to accommodate them.

Across the "Rainbow Nation", millions of people gathered to give thanks for the man who led the struggle against white minority rule in all manner of different places of worship - an astonishing variety of Christian denominations, as well as mosques, synagogues, and both Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Start Quote

Pamela Mpanza

He was old, he needed to rest, he has done what he needed to do”

End Quote Pamela Mpanza

In one part of Soweto, hundreds of people had gathered under a big tent erected in honour of a visiting "prophet" from Ghana, set up right next to two church buildings from different denominations. There is a mosque around the corner.

Everywhere, people were giving thanks for everything that their first democratically elected leader had done for them.

And around another corner, even a shebeen [bar] had got in on the act, with a jazz band accompanying the celebrations.

Famous jazz singer Thapelo Mofokeng sang at Mr Mandela's wedding to Graca Machel in 1998.

He put up posters of Mr Mandela at his shebeen, while his group played for the patrons.

"We have felt the pain, now we need to cleanse ourselves," he said.

Thapelo Mofokeng and friends at his shebeen Mourning at Thapelo Mofokeng's shebeen was accompanied by music

Although there is obviously sadness that Mr Mandela is no longer alive, combined with sympathy for his family, most people are using the occasion to remember his achievements.

Bishop Sono said that South Africans were not ready for him to die in June, when he was in hospital for the last time.

But the subsequent six months had given them time to get used to the idea that the 95-year-old may have been a global icon but he was not immortal.

'South Africa's saviour'

"We are celebrating his life, not mourning his passing," said Tebeho Mahlope, 34, in the parents' room at the Grace Bible Church, while his young son ran around with other children.

"He was old, he needed to rest, he has done what he needed to do," said fellow worshipper Pamela Mpanza, 29.

Although she is young enough to hardly remember life under apartheid, she still feels inspired by him.

"Like him, I can achieve my calling."

The Reverend Joel Serasengwe, who led a small congregation of just 20 women wearing blue and white uniforms at the East African Orphanage Church in South Africa, told the BBC that Mr Mandela was South Africa's saviour.

Teboho Mahlope at the Grace Bible Church Tebeho Mahlope said church worshippers were celebrating Nelson Mandela's life

"He sacrificed himself for us, like Jesus. He was prepared to die for us, that's why we love him."

While he was banging a marching drum to lead his choir, the sound of drums and singing also came from the Methodist church next door, as the reverend preached loudly about Mr Mandela.

The Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto became known as "the people's church" after anti-apartheid campaigners used it as a secure venue to plan their outlawed activities after Mr Mandela was arrested.

In the 1970s it became a sanctuary to escape the police and Mr Mandela's image now adorns one of the stained glass windows.

The order of service contained "A prayer for Madiba".

It read: "Go forth, revolutionary and loving soul on your journey out of this world, in the name of God, who created you, suffered with you and liberated you. Go home Madiba, you have selflessly done all that is good, noble and honourable for God's people. May you rest in peace and rise in glory."

Some of the congregation lit candles in his memory, while Father Sebastian Roussouw spoke of the light and hope he had brought to South Africa and the world.

But the crowds here were far smaller, and older, than at the Grace Bible Church - a reminder of the rise of the new, locally based churches across Africa, whose mixture of upbeat music and charismatic preaching is proving more attractive to many young people than traditional branches of Christianity.

Additional reporting by the BBC's Pumza Fihlani

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