The extended farewell a bittersweet mix of grief and celebration ends Dec. 15, when Mandela is to be buried in his rural hometown of Qunu in Eastern Cape province. The anti-apartheid campaigner wanted to die in those modest, traditional surroundings; instead, he died Thursday at age 95 in his home in an exclusive Johannesburg area. He was surrounded by family after months of a debilitating illness that required the constant care of a team of doctors.
Family friend Bantu Holomisa told The Associated Press that Mandela wasn't on life support in his final hours.
The government and Mandela's family have revealed few details about Mandela's death.
The death still came as a shock to many South Africans, so accustomed to the enduring presence of the monumental fighter, even when he retired from public life years ago and became increasingly frail.
In Johannesburg, hundreds swayed and sang at the Regina Mundi Church, which was near the epicenter of the Soweto township uprising against white rule in 1976 and served as a refuge from security forces who fired tear gas around the building and whose bullets have pockmarked the outside walls.
The Rev. Sebastian J. Rossouw compared Mandela to the biblical figures Isaiah and John the Baptist as men who led in dark times, calling him "that moonlight in the dark night."
God "sent us this man to show us the depths of the human heart. He sent us this man to show us that despite what was going on at the time, light could shine," Rossouw said. He warned of the flaws of modern life in South Africa, preaching against the "corruption and crime" that plague the country.
Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, joined one of his grandsons, Mandla Mandela, and South African President Jacob Zuma in a prayer service in Johannesburg.
In an affluent, predominantly white suburb of the capital, Pretoria, parishioners prayed for Mandela at what was once a worship center for pro-apartheid government and business leaders.
A picture of Mandela was beamed onto the wall above the pulpit, highlighting the enormous changes in South Africa, which elected Mandela as its first black president in an all-race vote in 1994.
The Rev. Niekie Lamprecht, pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church of Pretoria East, said Mandela was the driving force behind changes of attitude in the congregation's overwhelmingly white parishioners.
"He said, 'Let's forgive,' and he forgave. That created a space for people to feel safe ... at a time when the expectation was that there was going to be a war," Lamprecht said.