Mandela memorial service taking place in Johannesburg

A woman sings as mourners wait for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, December 10, 2013.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Thousands are gathering in the South African city of Johannesburg today to remember former president Nelson Mandela, who died aged 95 last Thursday.

The service, which is part of a series of commemorations during an official period of mourning, will host a significant number of international leaders and dignitaries, with over 100 current and former heads of state confirming their attendance.

South African President Jacob Zuma will make the keynote address, while US President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will give speeches along with four of Mandela's own children and Andrew Mlangeni, who served a sentence at Robben Island alongside Mandela.

Other tributes are expected from the leaders of China, Namibia and India among others.

The South African government has assured that it has put in place its tightest security plan ever, both at the 95,000 capacity FNB stadium where the event is being held –at which Mandela gave his last public appearance in 2010 - and at three overflow stadiums across the city, which give a further capacity of 125,000 on a first come first served basis.

The event will also be broadcast on big screens in communities across South Africa.

The BBC has reported that the atmosphere at the FNB stadium is similar to that of a political rally, the crowds are singing and dancing, creating an air of joy and hope, as they wait for the four hour ceremony to begin.

South Africans have been queuing for hours in the rain for the chance to be a part of such a significant event in memory of the man they know as 'Tata', or 'father'.

The heartbreak of the South African people in the wake of Mandela's death is evidence of the incredible love and respect that they hold for the anti-apartheid activist and the nation's first black president.

The humility with which he led, and the forgiveness that he offered, allowed a divided country to begin a process of healing and reconciliation, and the formation of the South Africa of today, the Rainbow Nation.

This spirit of reconciliation and peace is expected to pervade the memorial today, as leaders from opposing countries come together to pay their respects.

A state funeral will take place on Sunday, and Mandela's body will be buried in his home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province.