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Nelson Mandela's casket goes on public view

8:24 PM, Dec 12, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Memorial for Nelson Mandela

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Video: Nelson Mandela's casket goes on public view

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South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Dec. 11, 2013. (Photo: Marco Longari, AFP/Getty Images)

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Thousands of people waited in long lines Wednesday to pay their respects to South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela, whose body arrived in the country's capital, Pretoria, where it will lie in state for three days.

11Alive's Brenda Wood and Jon Shirek are in South Africa covering the memorial.  See their coverage here.

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On a warm and sunny day, many - mostly black, but some whites, too - waited for buses to take them to an amphitheater at the Union Buildings, once a symbol of the racist, white-dominated government in the country. There, under a tent, the cherished anti-apartheid leader's body is on display ahead of his burial on Sunday.

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Mutshidzi Bulannga, 15, and her brother, Muano Munyai, 17, were standing in the shade of a tree waiting for one of the buses. "This is the last time we can see one of the greatest icons in the world," Munyai says.

Bulannga says Munyai wants to become a doctor. She says she has learned enough about apartheid to know that her parents and grandparents would never have had the opportunity to study medicine.

"I wouldn't have been able to cope," she says. "(Mandela) has changed lots of things. Things here are so much easier now."

When Mandela took office in 1994, he used the Union Buildings as his offices and the presidency is still located there. It is the same location where he was sworn in as president.

President Jacob Zuma named the amphitheater after Mandela by decree Tuesday.

The Union Buildings, which have been described by the South African government as a "modern-day acropolis," sit atop a hill overlooking Pretoria.

Family members and invited officials have been viewing Mandela's remains throughout morning and the public has been allowed to file past his casket from noon local time (5 a.m. ET).

The mood in the line was more somber and serious than the festive atmosphere of Tuesday's memorial service, when tens of thousands of South Africans joined world leaders and other dignitaries for a memorial service on the outskirts of Johannesburg honoring the man President Obama eulogized as "the last great liberator of the 20th century."

In Pretoria Wednesday, people waited patiently, many with umbrellas to shield them from the hot sun, a stark contrast to Tuesday's memorial service that saw heavy rainfall.

Kagiso Mocumi, 33, of Lanseria, a mother of two and a real estate agent, says she was there to say, "Tata I love you."

South Africans often refer to Mandela affectionately as "Tata."

"I have a lot to be grateful to him for. He gave us the freedom to dream," Mocumi says. "He made us citizens of our own land. He gave me freedom. My children are free today because of him."

Mandela stepped down from the presidency in 1999 and his last public appearance was at the World Cup in 2010. He died Thursday night at age 95.

Mandela's casket will travel to Qunu - his home village in the Eastern Cape - for his funeral, which is expected to be a more private and low-key affair.

Fannie Louren, 58 , and Andre Branders, 63, had been in line for an hour in their work uniforms and still had longer to go to see Mandela's body. They took a long lunch break from their jobs in Johannesburg protecting buildings against lightning strikes but say they had to come pay their respects.

"He was a great man," said Louren. Both are white men who grew up under apartheid.

"There was a lot of brainwashing back then," said Branders. "I'm so thankful we got to this day and there's not brainwashing anymore."

More Coverage of Remembering Mandela:
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SLIDESHOW: Mandela through the years
PHOTOS: Nelson Mandela's visit to Atlanta
Mandela to be Buried Dec. 15
Atlanta photographer shares her candid photos of Mandela
Atlantans mourn Mandela, fill monument with flowers
Ex-US President Carter heading to Mandela memorial

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