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South Africans remember Mandela with praise and prayers

Reuters

* Worshippers hold up ex-president as example to the world

* Mandela is symbol of freedom and forgiveness, Zuma says

* Services held in churches, halls and parks

* Memorial and funeral drawing leaders from across globe

(Adds quotes from President Zuma, mourners, details of

services, editorial)

By Ed Cropley and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 8 (Reuters) - With hymns and eulogies,

South Africans of all colours and creeds remembered Nelson

Mandela in a day of prayers on Sunday, holding him up as an

example of freedom and forgiveness to build a better nation and

world.

At churches, mosques, synagogues and community halls from

the Limpopo River to the Cape, millions offered praise and

reflected on a man celebrated as "Father of the Nation" and as a

global beacon of integrity, rectitude and reconciliation.

Mandela, South Africa's first black president who steered

his nation out of apartheid and into multi-racial democracy,

died on Thursday at the age of 95 after months of illness.

Since then, the country has been gripped by an outpouring of

emotion unrivalled since Mandela's release from 27 years of

prison in 1990 and his subsequent election victory. Crowds have

piled flowers, candles, balloons and messages outside his

Johannesburg home.

At the cavernous Regina Mundi church in Soweto, South

Africa's largest Catholic Church, hundreds of mourners young and

old gathered to pray for Mandela and the nation's future.

"We are praying for both," said Gladys Simelane, an office

manager. "People are praying that there will be change, that we

will come together."

Mandela's former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, dressed in

black, attended a Methodist service in the northern Johannesburg

suburb of Bryanston, where President Jacob Zuma hailed the

values of the country's most beloved statesman.

"He believed in forgiveness and he forgave, even those who

kept him in jail for 27 years," Zuma said in a eulogy.

"He stood for freedom. He fought against those who oppressed

others. He wanted everyone to be free."

The day of prayers opens an official programme of mourning

that includes a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium on

Tuesday and a state funeral next Sunday at Mandela's Eastern

Cape ancestral home of Qunu - expected to be one of the biggest

gatherings of world leaders in recent history.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban

Ki-moon will be among those at Tuesday's memorial.

Mandela's passing, though long expected as he succumbed

slowly to a lung ailment dating back to his days in the

notorious Robben Island penal colony, has plunged South Africans

into soul-searching mode, six months before presidential and

legislative elections.

President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress

faces a clamour of calls for better leadership after several

years in which South Africa has experienced violent labour

unrest, growing protests against poverty, crime and

unemployment, and corruption scandals tainting Zuma's rule.

It remains one of the most unequal societies in the world,

still some way from the "Rainbow Nation" ideal of shared

prosperity and social harmony that Mandela proclaimed when he

won the country's first multi-racial elections in 1994.

SERVICES IN CHURCHES, HALLS, PARKS

In Cape Town's St George's Cathedral, where anti-apartheid

campaigners sought solace and refuge in the 1980s, some in the

packed congregation of locals and tourists shed tears during a

tribute to Mandela by the Anglican dean, Michael Weeder.

"He was an exposition of the African spirit of generosity,"

said Weeder. "And as he dies, he lives again and again. He is

resurrected in every act of kindness."

At the Rivers Pentacostal Church in Johannesburg, mourners,

some draped in South African flags, watched a video hailing the

Nobel Peace Prize laureate as "a rare man, a true non-racist and

a breed of politicians South Africa needs again".

In a country where many follow evangelical denominations,

some held outdoor services in fields and parks. In the northern

Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, members of the Paradise Apostles

of Jesus Christ Church hailed "the father of Africa" in a

ceremony by a muddy stream where several people were baptised.

Muslims in the mostly Indian neighbourhood of Lenasia in

south Johannesburg held a commemoration in a local hall.

Newspaper editorials urged South Africans and the world to

learn from a man hailed as "the Great Reconciler' for the way he

broke and bridged the apartheid racial divide that split South

Africa for centuries, and brought its people together.

"Mandela's legacy speaks of tenacity, courage, commitment

and a relentless striving for justice - qualities we will

require as we continue on our journey to build a new country and

forge a nation with a common purpose," the Johannesburg Sunday

Times said in an editorial.

"I AM NOT A SAINT"

Capturing the national mood of reverence, South Africa's

most famous cartoonist, Zapiro, published a drawing of Mandela's

tranquil face, eyes closed, sinking over the horizon like a

setting sun on the sea, while an awed crowd watches on.

"I don't think we will ever have anybody like him. I compare

him to Jesus Christ," said Shadrack Motau, a Soweto resident.

The week of mourning and funeral events split between

Johannesburg, the capital Pretoria where Mandela's body will lie

in state, and the Qunu funeral site will present the government

with its biggest logistical and organisational test since South

Africa successfully hosted the 2010 World Cup.

Despite the global homage, and although streets across South

Africa and the world bear his name, Mandela during his life had

pushed back against excessive hero-worship.

"I am not a saint, unles you think of a saint as a sinner

who keeps on trying," said the man with a beguiling smile who

time and again charmed enemies, celebrities and ordinary people.

(Additional reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa, David Dolan and Ed

Stoddard in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing

by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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