South Africa Holds Mandela In Mind As It Gathers In Prayer

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It has been National Day of Prayer and reflection in South Africa as the nation pays tribute to the late Nelson Mandela. Host Arun Rath speaks with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton about the day, and how white South Africans are reacting to the death of Mandela.


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Now to South Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Nelson Mandela.

RATH: The nation has spent a day in prayer and reflection in honor of the late Nelson Mandela. People all over the country flocked to churches, mosques, temples and parks and also held services in their own homes to remember the revered former president.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been monitoring Sunday's events across South Africa and joins us on the line from Johannesburg. Ofeibea, what has the day been like today?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: It's been quite special. Although President Jacob Zuma declared Sunday a day of prayer and reflection, it's been more a day of thanksgiving among South Africans of all ages, literally giving thanks to Mandela, singing, as South Africans always do, whether they're happy or sad, and really reflecting on the legacy of this man that they call their father Tata.

RATH: You've been speaking with South Africans of all races. What have they been telling you?

QUIST-ARCTON: Nelson Mandela always spoke of his Rainbow Nation, black South Africans, white South Africans, Indian South Africans, all sorts. And there's been some talk, people saying, well, what's going to happen after Mandela? White South Africans going to leave in droves, fearful of the post-Mandela era. I've been speaking to white South Africans who mostly have said, no, Nelson Mandela was also our father.

And one woman in Regina Mundi church in Soweto told me this morning, she said: We're not going to chase the white people into the sea. We want to live together with them. And that will be the legacy of Nelson Mandela, that he was a unifier. So I think people are understanding really why everyone needed to be freed from whatever shackles they were trailing behind them.

RATH: There's a full week to go until the funeral next Sunday. What are the plans for this week ahead?

QUIST-ARCTON: Monday seems to be not a day of rest but a day of preparation for Tuesday's official memorial service. And that will be in a huge soccer stadium in Soweto. We're told that President Obama and the first lady will be attending and also former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush and former President Clinton. And then the mortal remains of President Mandela will be laid in state in Pretoria, in the capital. And from then, he will be taken to Qunu. That's his rural homestead. That is where Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest on Sunday.

RATH: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the line from Johannesburg. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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