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Report: South Africa

Learn from Mandela says priest at Regina Mundi church, Soweto's 'old parliament'

Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela depicted in a stained glass window at the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, Johannesburg, 16 June 2013.
Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela depicted in a stained glass window at the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, Johannesburg, 16 June 2013. @dan finnan

Ordinary South Africans crowded into places of worship across the land on Sunday to remember 'Madiba', to mourn together and to celebrate his life.

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Religious services were held across South Africa on Sunday as people offered prayers for anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.

At the Regina Mundi Catholic church in Soweto, a place essential to the struggle against apartheid, there were mixed feelings, sad and happy, sombre at the same time as celebratory.

“We’re celebrating the memory of our icon,” Josephine Matsheni, a nun with the order of the Immaculate Conception told RFI. “He brought us freedom, things we didn’t have before, we have now.”

Regina Mundi was particularly important during the apartheid era, acting as a refuge for people fleeing the violence during the Soweto uprisings in 1976.

Later on it was used as a secret meeting place for political discussion.

The church’s caretaker, Dan, remembers it fondly as the “Soweto Parliament”.

During his service on Sunday, priest Sebastian Roussouw, said that “Madiba must now go home – setting free his loving and revolutionary heart”.

He urged his congregation to keep Mandela in their hearts and ask themselves what they can learn from him.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma attended a ceremony at the Bryanston Methodist Church in Johannesburg.

Zuma told churchgoers that Mandela “wanted everyone to be free”.

“He preached and believed that we should live in peace, that we should live in unity, we should be united as a rainbow nation,” he said.

The mood was uplifting and joyful at the Bryanston service.

Members of the congregation held hands and offered prayers for the country’s former president.

Describing the atmosphere in the church, one of the faithful described, “a massive sense of unity - I think we haven’t felt this since the 1995 World Cup”.

Another woman said that those present at the church were “very representative of the colour range across our country, everybody was there”.

Other services in Johannesburg included an interfaith prayer service at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and a memorial rally at Gandhi Hall led by Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela’s fellow inmates on Robben island.

African National Congress party officials were also deployed to numerous religious events across the country.

Mandela will be buried in Qunu, Eastern Cape on Sunday.

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