JOHANNESBURG (AP:South Africa expects overwhelming crowds and a host of world leaders to attend services honouring late President Nelson Mandela, though with the ceremonies only days away officials acknowledged yesterday they couldn't offer any specifics yet.
Across the country, South Africans already have begun honouring Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, and officials expect tens of thousands to participate in next week's official services.
In their first statement since Mandela's death, his family said they had "lost a great man", just as they had when South Africa's apartheid government imprisoned him for decades.
"The pillar of our family is gone, just as he was away during that 27 painful years of imprisonment, but in our hearts and souls he will always be with us," said the statement, read by family spokesman Themba Templeton Matanzima.
"His spirit endures. As a family we commit ourselves to uphold and be guided by the values he lived for and was prepared to die for," he said.
Official services honouring Mandela begin Tuesday with a major memorial planned at FNB Stadium on the edge of Johannesburg's Soweto township.
Government Minister Collins Chabane told journalists yesterday he expects massive crowds far beyond what the stadium's normal 95,000-person capacity could hold. He said there would be "overflow" areas set up.
"We can't tell people not to come," he said.
He couldn't offer specifics about how crowds would arrive there with all roads to the venue closed by police or who would serve as a master of ceremonies.
Those planning Mandela's funeral include the former president's family, the federal government, the military, and the African National Congress party.
Despite some prior planning by authorities as Mandela grew frail and suffered bouts of hospitalisation in recent years, many of the details remain up in the air.
It's unclear which ceremony world leaders will attend, either Tuesday's stadium memorial or the planned funeral service December 15 in Qunu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's rural hometown in Eastern Cape Province.
Chabane said South African officials were briefing diplomats yesterday about the arrangements.
United States President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, already have indicated they will attend services in South Africa honouring Mandela.
Mandela's body won't be at the stadium event Tuesday, Chabane said. His body will rest in state Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of government power in South Africa's capital. Mourners will file.
Mandela's body will be held overnight those days at a military hospital on Pretoria's outskirts, Chabane said. He called on residents to line the streets to serve as an honour guard as Mandela's body will pass twice each day.
ANC members will hold a ceremony on December 14 at Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria before Mandela's body is flown to Qunu from there, Chabane said.
Today has been declared a national day of prayer and reflection over Mandela's death.
The government has announced that a special sitting of the two houses of parliament will be held tomorrow to pay tribute to Mandela, the country's first black and democratically elected president.