Thousands of people lined up Wednesday in Pretoria to bid farewell to Nelson Mandela, who is lying in state at the seat of the South African government.

Mandela's relatives and some of the world leaders who attended Tuesday's memorial service for the former South African president had an opportunity to view the body before officials opened the building to the public at noon.

The public will be able to say goodbye to South Africa's first black president until Friday.

Mandela's flag-draped casket is being guarded by four members of the armed forces at the Unions Building, where it arrived after a brief but emotional procession through the streets of Pretoria.

The former president's widow, Graça Machel, and his second wife, Winnie, accompanied by President Jacob Zuma, attended the viewing and appeared visibly shaken.

Machel, who was crying uncontrollably, was helped up the steps of the Unions Building by Zuma, while Winnie, who was also crying, followed along with a large group that included the former president's daughters.

Numerous dignitaries and celebrities later paid their respects to Mandela, images from the official public television feed at the media center showed.

South African officials are not allowing the media into the Unions Building.

Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa, will be laid to rest on Sunday in Qunu, the rural southeastern community where he grew up.

The 95-year-old Mandela died last Thursday from chronic pulmonary problems that were a legacy of the tuberculosis he contracted during the 27 years he spent behind bars in his struggle against South Africa's racist regime.

Mandela, who was trained as an attorney, joined the African National Congress in 1944 and went on to establish the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

He was convicted in June 1964 on charges of sabotage of power plants and other vital infrastructure and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.

Mandela became South Africa's first freely elected president in 1994, four years after he was released from prison by order of then-President F.W. de Klerk.

The pair shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts that led to an agreement to transfer power to a government representing South Africa's black majority.

Mandela served just one term as president but he is credited with promoting reconciliation among white and black South Africans and helping to avert widespread racial violence in the post-apartheid era. EFE