Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe has told the BBC about the “wonderful” final hours of the former president, who died aged 95 last Thursday.
Ms Mandela said his wife Graca, the children and grandchildren were all there to say goodbye.
South Africa is observing a series of commemorations over the next week, leading up to the funeral on Sunday.
More than 100 current or former heads of state or government will attend the funeral or Tuesday’s national memorial.
Makaziwe Mandela told the BBC’s Komla Dumor: “Until the last moment he had us, you know… The children were there, the grandchildren were there, Graca was there, so we are always around him and even at the last moment, we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.”
She said: “I think from last week, Friday until Thursday, it was a wonderful time, if you can say the process of death is wonderful. But Tata [Nelson Mandela] had a wonderful time, because we were there.
“When the doctors told us I think Thursday morning… that there was nothing that they could do, and said to me ‘Maki call everybody that is here that wants to see him and say bye bye’, it was a most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there.”
Ms Mandela paid tribute to the doctors for the 24-hour care.
She said: “It was like there were soldiers guarding this period of the king – yes my father comes from royalty – without them knowing they were actually practising our rituals and culture, they were there in silence and when we as family members come in they would excuse themselves and just a few of them would be there to give us the time to be around my dad’s bed.”
Ms Mandela said that, for the past few months, she would tell her father that she loved him and that would see him again tomorrow.
“And maybe he would open his eyes for just a second and close those eyes,” she said.
Ms Mandela said she believed her father had fought not just for political freedom but also for spiritual freedom.
“He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing,” she said.
“I think he knew that if he didn’t forgive, he would be forever imprisoned spiritually. The lesson we can take from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people.
“None of us are born hating another – we are taught to hate and if you can teach a human being to hate you can also teach a human being to love, to embrace and to forgive.”
South Africa’s parliament is now meeting in special session to pay tribute to Mr Mandela, with family members in the gallery.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said there was a “sweeping feeling of sorrow” worldwide following Mr Mandela’s death, but the most important thing was how those left behind dealt with his legacy.
“The litmus test is whether inheritors of his dream… will be able to make the dream for which he lived come to pass in the fullness of time,” Mr Motlanthe said.
The foreign ministry says that 91 current heads of state or government have confirmed they are coming to South Africa, along with “10 former heads of state, 86 heads of delegations and 75 eminent persons”.
US President Barack Obama, Francois Hollande of France and UK PM David Cameron will be among those attending Tuesday’s memorial.
Three former US presidents, George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, will also be there.
On Saturday, Cuban state media announced that President Raul Castro would be one of those attending Mr Mandela’s funeral.
Under Mr Castro’s brother Fidel, Cuba was a staunch critic of apartheid, and Mr Mandela had expressed gratitude for his support.
Tuesday’s memorial service is likely to be one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years.
They will join a 95,000-strong crowd at the memorial service at Soweto’s FNB stadium, where Nelson Mandela made his final major public appearance during the 2010 football World Cup.
Among those also on the list are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German President Joachim Gauck, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and India’s President Pranab Mukherjee.
Leading celebrities in the anti-apartheid movement Peter Gabriel and Bono are also expected to attend.
Mr Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria on the following three days and he will be given a state funeral on Sunday.
A smaller number of international dignitaries including the Prince of Wales will attend the burial in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu, where the late president grew up.
Week of events
Mourners have gathered every day outside Mr Mandela’s house in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
Well wishers have lit candles there and laid wreaths at his old home in Soweto.
The government has given further details of the state funeralarrangements for this week:
- Tuesday, 10 December: Official memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, to be addressed by President Jacob Zuma with tributes from other heads of state
- The memorial service will be shown on big screens at three “overflow” stadiums – Orlando, Dobsonville and Rand
- Between 11-13 December, “selected international visitors and guests” will be able to view Mr Mandela’s remains at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
- The public will be able to view the body from 12:00 to 17:30 on Wednesday and from 08:00 to 17:30 on Thursday and Friday
- Each morning his body will be taken from the mortuary to the city hall through the streets of Pretoria. Members of the public have been encouraged to line the route and form a “guard of honour”
- His body will be transported on Saturday, 14 December, from Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria to the Eastern Cape, with a procession from the airport at Mthatha to his home village of Qunu where a traditional ceremony will be held
- A national day of reconciliation will take place on 16 December when a statue of Mr Mandela will be unveiled at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
- Some 90 screens will be set up across the country to show all planned national events
Flags at all official buildings are to remain at half mast throughout the period and books of condolence are being circulated across the country and online for people to post tributes, record memories and express their emotions.
The former South African leader spent 27 years in jail before becoming the country’s first black president in 1994.
He served a single term before stepping down in 1999.