South Africans streamed into a Cape Town cathedral on Thursday to pay their last respects to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the globally venerated anti-apartheid icon, who lay in a simple pine coffin.
Six Anglican clerics carried the coffin into St George's Cathedral, where the Nobel Peace laureate once railed against white rule and was formerly archbishop, at 0640 GMT and placed it near the altar.
The simple coffin, adorned with a small bouquet of carnations, was in line with wishes for modesty expressed by the much-loved rights advocate before he died.
The tireless spiritual and political leader passed away peacefully aged 90 on Boxing Day. His body will be cremated and his ashes buried on New Year's Day.
His body will lie in state throughout Thursday and Friday to allow as many people as possible to say their final goodbyes. Reverend Gilmore Fry told AFP that the lying-in state had been extended to two days "for fear there might be a stampede".
Ordinary South Africans of all races and ages started streaming into the Anglican church as soon as the doors opened to the public.
"We've come to pay our respects," said Joan Coulson, 70, who arrived with her sister early in the morning to be one of the first to enter.
She first met Tutu, her "rock star", aged 15. "I would compare him with Elvis," referring to the legendary US rock and roll star.
A young girl spotting a purple top, paused briefly before the coffin, gesturing the sign of the cross and waived her braided hair.
A woman donning a purple Muslim veil, stood briefly before the coffin. Other mourners stood before the coffin and bowed in a show of respect.
Purple has become the preferred colour in honour of Tutu's purple clerical robes.
Before opening up to members of the public, the church conducted a private service for the family, including his widow Leah.
The coffin was opened for the family to view the body and they sang Tutu's favourite hymn, according to Tutu's successor, Thabo Makgoba.
Following a private cremation, Tutu's ashes will be interred inside the cathedral and where bells have been ringing in his memory for 10 minutes at midday every day since Monday.
Hundreds of people have already flocked to St George's since Sunday -- where Tutu served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town for a decade until 1996 -- to lay flowers and sign a book of condolences.
He then led a harrowing journey into South Africa's dark past as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of apartheid in terrible detail.
South Africa is marking a week-long mourning for Tutu with the country's multi-coloured flag flying at half-mast nationwide and ceremonies taking place every day until the funeral.
The service on New Year's Day will be simple in line with his wishes.
"He wanted no ostentatiousness or lavish spending," said his foundation, adding he even "asked that the coffin be the cheapest available".
In line with Covid-19 restrictions, the numbers of mourners attending the funeral will be restricted.
Tutu had also wanted military rites to be limited.
Only the South African flag will be presented to his wife Leah. The couple married in 1955 and had four children.
Weakened by advanced age and prostate cancer, he had retired from public life in recent years.