PRETORIA - Nelson Mandela will embark on the final leg of his exceptional 95-year journey on Saturday, when his remains are returned to his rural childhood home for traditional burial.
Since his death at his Johannesburg home on December 5, South Africans have turned out in pouring rain and blistering sunshine to say goodbye to their first black president.
Tens of thousands packed a soaked stadium in Soweto for a memorial service Tuesday and up to 100,000 people filed past Mandela's open-casket for the three days it was displayed at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was inaugurated two decades earlier.
Crowds of mourners clamoured to bid a personal farewell to the anti-apartheid hero.
Hundreds of people pushed through a police cordon on Friday in a last-gasp bid to see his body before his coffin was closed.
Outside the perimeter, there was crushing disappointment for tens of thousands of mourners unable to pay their final respects to the man whose journey from prisoner to president transformed South Africa and inspired the world.
"We really thought this was the day. But again we did not get to see the old man," said Lydia More, 31, who got in line at 7:00 am.
"We just feel empty. It's so sad," she said.
South Africa has lost its talisman at a time when his "Rainbow Nation" struggles against glaring inequalities. Yet there is still a sense his legacy will ensure the worst can be avoided.