The body of Nelson Mandela has been transported to the amphitheatre where he was sworn in 19 years ago as South Africa's first black president and where he now will lie in state for three days.

A flag-draped coffin containing Mandela's remains left the capital's main military hospital accompanied by a cortege, and was taken to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to the anti-apartheid hero as motorcycle-riding police officers escorted the black hearse and army helicopters circled overhead.

"I just hope I won't cry," said Paul Letageng, 47, an employee of the seat of government, said. "It's amazing to think that 19 years ago he was inaugurated there, and now he's lying there. If he was not here we would not have had peace in South Africa."

The crowd sang old songs from the struggle against the apartheid regime but fell silent when the hearse arrived at the amphitheatre, which has been renamed after Mandela by President Jacob Zuma earlier this week.

The coffin was carried by eight warrant officers representing the various services and divisions of the South African National Defence Force.

The procession is to be repeated in the next two days. Mandela's remains are to be driven back to the 1 Military Hospital in the evenings and re-transported atop the hill overlooking Pretoria, which hosts the Union Buildings in the morning.

"The public are encouraged to form a guard of honour by lining the streets," the government said.

Mandela's body is then to be flown to Qunu, his ancestral home in the Eastern Cape Province, for burial.


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