PRETORIA, Dec. 11 -- Thousands of South Africans on Wednesday thronged to the Union Buildings in Pretoria where the body of former South African president Nelson Mandela will lie in state for three days.
Mourners lined the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the body of Mandela, who died of illness on Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
Mandela family members also gathered at the scene where a traditional ritual was performed ahead of the initial lying in state process.
Mourners broke into song, ululated, and danced as Mandela's coffin, draped in the South African flag, was accompanied by more than 20 cars and many motorbikes en-route to the Union Buildings.
The coffin had a glass top so that people could view Mandela's body.
Among the mourners was 30-year-old Sibongile Made who woke up at 5 am this morning. "I just wanted to be part of the historical event. This is a life moment, one should not miss,"she said.
Three women in their early thirties told Xinhua that they stayed awake Tuesday night to be the first at One Military Hospital in Pretoria from where Mandel's body was transported to the Union Buildings Wednesday morning.
Amelia Neta, 33, said she attended the procession to say good- bye to Mandela.
"I never met Tata, but this is my first chance and last chance to meet him. This is the chance I have in my life time to thank you and send off the great man of South Africa,"Neta said.
Another woman, Teclar Dube, fought back hers tears. She said: "It's sad to see the lifeless body of the Tata Mandela. I'm part of history. This day will never be repeated again in life. By attending here, I'm part of history."
Peter Kombus, a man in his sixties, said he had to come to Pretoria from his rural area of Limpopo because he had great respect for "the son of the soil and father of the nation, Nelson Mandela".
"The ruling African National congress (ANC) must not fail Mandela. Madiba was a fighter and a revolutionary. I came here to pay my last respects to the man who is respected the world over," he added.
"I met Mandela several times soon after his release from Robin Island. His humility and kindness touched my heart. Today is a special day because I have come to see and grieve with Tata Mandela's family and the nation. If it were not for Mandela we wouldn't be here. We love him and we will miss him,"said Kombus.
Young children came to the Union Buildings under the company of their parents. Twin brothers, James and Joseph Pandor, 15, said that the day was so special to them.
"God has indeed blessed the world with an extraordinary man. Tata should have waited until Christmas, not now,"said James, sobbing.
Armed soldiers and police officers gathered in the early morning outside the Union Buildings, with tanks and police vehicles stationed nearby.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, South Africa's Minister of Defense, said the public are allowed to view the body from noon on Wednesday, "but only if they use the park and ride facilities provided."
"Government invites mourners to line this route and form a public guard of honor for Tata Madiba (Mandela) when the remains are transported," Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said.
"Mourners are advised that cameras, including cellphones, will not be allowed at the Union Buildings," Chabane said.
"We call on members of the public to cooperate with the authorities to ensure that this event is dignified and secure."
Chabane said it was not certain whether Mandela's casket would be open or closed.
President Jacob Zuma and various dignitaries are expected to pay their respect on Wednesday to Mandela before the public are allowed in.
Shop owners in the area are requested to close their shops during the procession.
Madela will be buried in his rural home of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday.