NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — While South Africans of all races flocked to houses of worship Sunday for a national day of prayer and reflection to honor Nelson Mandela on Sunday, the former South African president and civil rights icon was also being remembered in the United States.
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” poet Maya Angelou described meeting Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, in the 1960s. Mandela and Angelou’s husband were members of rival liberation movements when Mandela came to Egypt, where Angelou was living.
“I had been so use to these rivals arguing and shouting in the living room and shouting in the street against each other,” Angelou said. ” … But when Mr. Mandela came, he never had a cross word to say to anyone. I was amazed. I had never seen South Africans who were that kind. He had a compliment to give to everybody, including my housekeeper and the doorman. It was amazing. A gentle giant he was.”
Author Premilla Nadasen, a history professor at Barnard College who was born in South Africa and participated in the anti-apartheid movement, told CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu that Mandela’s “courage and perserverance” stood out.
“Nelson Mandela became involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1940s, and that was a time when it was very difficult to speak out against apartheid,” she said. “There were real-life consequences to that. Speaking out meant putting your life on the line. It meant putting the well-being of your family on the line.”
Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio celebrated Mandela’s life Sunday along with congregants at the Christian Cultural Center in Canarsie, Brooklyn. De Blasio was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins when Mandela visited New York in 1990.
“This is very personal for us, and obviously, my own experience in 1990 when Mandela was here,” he said. “So we’re feeling a personal sense of loss, but also the inspiration.”
The South African government said Sunday that 53 heads of state and government as well as a broad range of eminent persons had confirmed that they would be attending a national memorial service and state funeral for the country’s first black and democratically-elected president.
At the Regina Mundi Church that was at the epicenter of the Soweto township uprising in 1976 against white rule, Father Sebastian J. Rossouw described Mandela as “moonlight,” saying he offered a guiding light for South Africa. Hundreds of people attended the Mass.
“Madiba did not doubt the light,” Rossouw said, referring to Mandela by his clan name. “He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone.”
During the service, worshippers offered special prayers for the anti-apartheid leader and lit a candle in his honor in front of the altar. Off to the side of the sanctuary was a black and white photo of Mandela.
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 a Methodist church in Johannesburg.
“We felt it important that we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy,” Zuma said. “But it is also to pray for our nation — to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for.”
Zuma said Mandela had forgiven even those who had kept him in prison for 27 years, and that he had opposed both white and black domination.
A national memorial service for the man who, as the country’s first black president forged a new multiracial, democratic South Africa, will be held at a Johannesburg stadium on Tuesday.
Mandela’s body will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday, followed by his funeral and burial in Qunu next Sunday.
Among those who have already indicated that they will be coming to South Africa are U.S. President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also travel to Johannesburg for the memorial service.
Other leaders and dignitaries who have confirmed that they are coming include French President Francois Hollande, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, Cyprus’ Parliamentary Speaker, Yiannakis Omirou, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Crown Prince Haakon of Norway.
King Willem-Alexander and Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans will attend on behalf of the Netherlands.
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