People grieve on December 6, 2013 outside the house of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Zaheer Cassim and Jesse Singal, Special for USA TODAY
JOHANNESBURG - Millions of South Africans expressed grief and love Friday while mourning their beloved former leader Nelson Mandela.
"I am destroyed," said Thuto Lentsuane, 28, of Johannesburg. Lentsuane was outside Mandela's former home, now a heritage site, in the black township of Soweto. "A great legacy was left by a great man."
Many South Africans first heard of Mandela's death on Friday morning and some left work to go to Mandela House in grief today, where they are singing and dancing in praise of a man who is drawing tributes from across the world.
Others flocked to Mandela's more recent home in Johannesburg's leafy Houghton neighborhood. One of the mourners there, Ariel Sobel, said he was born in 1993, a year before Mandela was elected president.
"What I liked most about Mandela was his forgiveness, his passion, his diversity, the pact of what he did," Sobel said. "I am not worried about what will happen next. We will continue as a nation. We knew this was coming. We are prepared."
Obituaries in some of South Africa's media reflected the feelings of a nation overwhelmed by the loss of the man who fought to end apartheid and bring his country back together, becoming a legend in the eyes of many.
"Mandela epitomized those instincts we most associate with childhood: trust, goodness, optimism; an ability to vanquish the night's demons with the knowledge that the sun will rise in the morning," wrote Mark Gewisser on the website of the Mail & Guardian, a weekly newspaper based in Johannesburg.
"But he also made us feel good, and warm, and safe, because he found a way to play an ideal father, beyond the confines of his biological family or even his national one," he added.
Writing in the Cape-Town-based Cape Argus, Michael Morris wrote that Mandela was a "man of giant moral dimensions" who stood for "fortitude and humanity, and the sacrifice of personal freedom for the freedoms of others."
In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa's first black president would want South Africans themselves to be his "memorial" by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
"All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration," Tutu said, recalling how Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid, the cruel system of white rule, and prepared for all-race elections in 1994.
Meanwhile, other outlets focused on Mandela's famous sense of humor.
In a staff editorial referencing earlier, false rumors that Mandela had died, the Johannesburg-based Business Day wrote that Mandela "would have found it endlessly amusing that rumors of his demise have been circling the globe in the ether with monotonous regularity over the past few years. It does not take much imagination for any South African, or indeed any politically aware human being on Earth, to picture that trademark grin as Madiba contemplated the fact that reports of his death had been so greatly exaggerated."
Still, a South African government webpage dedicated to memorializing Mandela pointed out that his contributions to South Africa, and the world, didn't start and end with playing an outsized role in abolishing the country's racist apartheid system.
"Even as he retired from politics, his attention shifted to social issues such as HIV and AIDs and the wellbeing of the nation's children," the site noted.
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95 at his home in Johannesburg after struggling to overcome a lung infection that had seen him hospitalized four times since last December.
The government has prepared funeral ceremonies that will draw leaders and other dignitaries from around the globe.
Mandela will be laid to rest on Dec. 15 in Qunu, Eastern Cape. There will be an official memorial service on Dec. 10 and Dec. 8 will be a national day of prayer and reflection, South African President Jacob Zuma announced Friday.
The former South African President leaves behind his wife, three daughters, and 18 grandchildren.
The liberation struggle icon's grandson, Mandla Mandela, said he is strengthened by the knowledge that his grandfather is finally at rest.
"All that I can do is thank God that I had a grandfather who loved and guided all of us in the family," Mandla Mandela said in a statement. "The best lesson that he taught all of us was the need for us to be prepared to be of service to our people."