PRETORIA - Nelson Mandela's tearful widow was among scores of family and dignitaries who stopped to pay their last respects before Nelson Mandela's open casket Wednesday, as the celebrated leader lay in state.
Clad in a black head-dress, Graca Machel stood in silence before the raised coffin, which was guarded at each end by two navy officers clad in white dress uniform, heads bowed and with swords pointing downward.
Later presidents and royalty made their pilgrimage.
Some stopped briefly to pray, some bowed, some brushed against the rope balustrade to get a closer look at the mortal remains of a man who in his lifetime forged a powerful political legacy.
Among the dignitaries were Mandela's former political foe FW de Klerk, musician and activist Bono and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Earlier a black hearse phalanxed by 16 motorcycle outriders had carried Mandela's flag-draped coffin on a solemn journey through the streets of Pretoria, the South African capital.
The cortege moved briskly through streets lined with flag-waving South Africans who formed a public guard of honour.
"I never met Mandela, so this is my only chance and it's important I pay my respects. I'm South African - I have to be here," said 28-year-old Vaughan Motshwene.
Some cheered but many were tearful, aware that Mandela's death on Thursday aged 95, opened a new chapter in South African history.
"It feels like the end of an era. All the opportunities I've had growing up that my parents never had, Madiba gave me that," said government employee Faaiqia Hartley, 27.
"He gave all of us an opportunity to be the best we could be."
At Union Buildings, the seat of South African government the casket was unloaded by eight pallbearers representing the branches of the armed forces in full uniform.
From there it was carried up the steps toward the towering acropolis of beige freestone, where nearly two decades ago Mandela was sworn in as the country's first black president, signifying the rebirth of this long-troubled nation.
Trailing behind the coffin was Mandela's oldest grandson, Mandla Mandela, his manifest grief a poignant reminder that while the nation lost a hero, Mandela's family lost a father, grandfather and husband.
Mandela's open coffin was placed on a cubic platform in the building's amphitheatre, soon to be renamed in his honour, where it will be on view for three days.