From law student to freedom fighter to president to icon, the anti-apartheid hero who united a deeply divided nation will return to the village where his story began to be laid to rest.
Next weekend the world will stop to witness the funeral of Mr Mandela at the climax of a week of tributes from the country to which he devoted his life.
A national service of mourning will be held in a 95,000-seater football stadium on Tuesday.
Thousands more ordinary South Africans are expected to wait in line to file past his coffin when he lies in state, starting on Wednesday, just as they queued for hours to vote in the free elections he was instrumental in delivering.
South African president Jacob Zuma confirmed that the man who was known by his clan name, Madiba, by his own people will be buried among them in his home village.
His death sparked a global outpouring of emotion yesterday, from the streets of Soweto, the statesman’s former home and scene of some of the most violent clashes of the apartheid era, to crowds gathering at a statute of Mr Mandela in London’s Trafalgar Square and schoolchildren holding candles and portraits during a prayer ceremony in India.
In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the South African flag and flags across the world, including at Downing Street and the New York Stock Exchange were flying at half mast.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post today, the Archbishop of York says Mr Mandela was “more than a man - he was a symbol of hope” while the Bishop of Bradford says the world owes “a massive and unrepayable debt” to South Africa’s former leader.
Queues formed outside the South Africa embassy as people waited patiently to pay their personal tribute.
The Queen said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of his death, saying he “worked tirelessly for the good of his country”.
MPs will pay tribute on Monday in the House of Commons, led by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Westminster Abbey will hold a national service of thanksgiving for the life of Mr Mandela after the state funeral in South Africa. A book of condolence has been opened in St Margaret’s Church at the Abbey.
In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said the anti- apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first black president would want South Africans themselves to be his “memorial” by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
“All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration,”he said, recalling how Mr Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid and prepared for all-race elections.
In closing his prayer, he said: “God, thank you for the gift of Madiba.”
Mr Mandela was a “very human person” with a sense of humour who took interest in people around him, said FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president.
The two men negotiated the end of apartheid, finding common cause in often tense circumstances, and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
In summarising Mr Mandela’s legacy, Mr de Klerk said: “Never and never again should there be in South Africa the suppression of anyone by another.”
But as the giants of the world stage offered their tributes, it as the words and actions of ordinary people in response to his death that served to underline the impact he had across continents and generations.
Ijeoma Dabengwa and her two-year-old son Baron Nwokowe, from London, were among those who joined the end of a growing line at South Africa House yesterday where people were leaving flowers and pictures.
Ms Dabengwa said: “My little boy might not know who he is but we’ll have the pictures that show he stood in the queue.”
Next to the shrine, people formed a circle, with their bags in the centre, and sang and danced.
Wearing hats and scarves with South African colours, flags draped around their shoulders and some wearing the nation’s sports jerseys, the small group formed a tango-style line at one point.
The group, some with tears in their eyes and others joyous, attracted a crowd of onlookers who held their camera phones aloft to capture the scene.
Among those writing a message in the book of condolence at South Africa House was the Prime Minister.
He wrote: “Your cause of fighting for freedom and against discrimination, your struggle for justice, your triumph against adversity – these things will inspire generations to come. And through all of this, your generosity, compassion and profound sense of forgiveness have given us all lessons to learn and live by.”