JOHANNESBURG — As the news of Nelson Mandela's death spread across South Africa, residents of the black township of Soweto gathered in the streets near the house where he once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his colossal life.
The people of South Africa reacted Friday with deep sadness at the loss of a man considered by many to be the father of the nation, while mourners said it was also a time to celebrate the achievements of the anti-apartheid leader who emerged from prison to become South Africa's first black president.
President Jacob Zuma said all national flags would be lowered to half-staff from today until after a state funeral. Many South Africans, having missed the news after going to bed, would awaken to a country without its spiritual and moral leader.
"First sleep in a Mandela-less world," South African journalist Brendan Boyle tweeted. "We're on our own now."
In the black of night, several hundred people milled around outside Mandela's home in the leafy Houghton neighborhood of Johannesburg. The mood was lively rather than somber. Some sang and swayed.
A man blew on a vuvuzela, the plastic horn widely used at World Cup soccer games in South Africa in 2010. People photographed a makeshift shrine of candles, a national flag and bouquets of flowers. A framed portrait of a smiling Mandela was propped against a tree with the caption: "Rest in peace, Madiba."
About 40 people formed a circle in the middle of Vilakazi Street and sang songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. Some people were draped in South African flags and the green, yellow and black colors of Mandela's party, the African National Congress.
"We have not seen Mandela in the place where he is, in the place where he is kept," they sang, a lyric that anti-apartheid protesters had sung during Mandela's long incarceration.
At Nelson Mandela Square in the upscale Sandton neighborhood of Johannesburg, six people stood at the foot of a six-yard bronze statue of Mandela, paying homage to the leader. The six were two whites, two blacks and two of Indian descent, representing South Africa's "rainbow nation" that Mandela had fought and sacrificed for.
"For 23 years, I walked a path with this man since he was released," said Sonja Pocock, a white 46-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative. "I'm from the old regime. He's like my grandfather. He is my grandfather."
The blonde sales executive burst into tears.