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A young girl with a placard showing the face of Nelson Mandela and referring to his clan name "Madiba", marches with others to celebrate his life, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
A young girl with a placard showing the face of Nelson Mandela and referring to his clan name "Madiba", marches with others to celebrate his life, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.

Globe in South Africa: Mandela funeral set for Dec. 15 as nation grieves Add to ...

South Africa is gathering its strength for an unprecedented marathon of public mourning, memorial rallies, tributes and a state funeral for Nelson Mandela that will dominate much of the global spotlight for the next 10 days.

The government announced on Friday that the state funeral will be on Dec. 15 in the village of Qunu, the childhood home of Mr. Mandela in the beautiful rolling grasslands of the Eastern Cape. World leaders and global celebrities will attend.

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On the first day after the late-night announcement of his death, South Africans continued to gather at sites around the country to mourn their liberation hero and to celebrate his life.

Hundreds flocked to his home in Johannesburg, to his former home in Soweto, to the street outside the City Hall in Cape Town where he gave his first speech after being released from 27 years of prison, and in other towns and cities across the country. Many sang and danced in emotional tributes to their first democratic president.

Mr. Mandela will lie in state from Dec. 11 to 13 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where hundreds of thousands of South Africans – perhaps millions – will queue up to pay their respects.

The biggest memorial service will be Dec. 10 at a huge soccer stadium with nearly 95,000 seats on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the largest stadium in Africa. The stadium, known as Soccer City, was the site of the opening and closing matches of the World Cup in 2010.

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu gave the most poignant tribute of the day on Friday, speaking slowly to a hushed audience of journalists and coming close to tears as he remembered Mr. Mandela. He praised him as a rare political leader who admitted errors and fought for reconciliations.

“Let us reach out to one another and let Madiba’s dream be our dream,” Mr. Tutu said, using the affectionate clan name for Mr. Mandela.

The government is calling for a day of prayer and reflection on Sunday at churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and homes, followed by a week of national mourning.

“Long live Madiba,” said President Jacob Zuma as he revealed the funeral and memorial plans on national television on Friday.

“We will always love Madiba for teaching us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger to build a new society,” Mr. Zuma said. He said the former president’s life was “a life well-lived, a life we must emulate for the benefit of our country and Africa.”

The government has had years to prepare, but the pressures of national grief and hordes of visiting world leaders will be a strain on a country that lacks the resources of wealthier nations.

Mr. Mandela’s funeral will be one of the most complex ever organized, with the most powerful leaders from scores of countries attending.

“He is the hero of the planet,” said one Western diplomat in South Africa. “It’s going to be the biggest state funeral since Winston Churchill, and I think any country would struggle to organize that.”

The province of Western Cape, the only province governed by the opposition Democratic Alliance, is already organizing its own memorial events in its capital, Cape Town. Religious leaders in Cape Town were holding an inter-faith ceremony on Friday at the Grand Parade, near City Hall, where Mr. Mandela delivered his first speech after his release from prison in 1990. Free public transport was arranged, and mourners were laying flowers and writing in books of remembrance at the site.

Follow on Twitter: @geoffreyyork

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