Aerial images showed lines of mourners snaking for around two miles as they queued patiently for buses to the building where his body is lying in state and then again as they waited to go inside.
Until now the cameras of the world have often been trained on leaders, VIPs and celebrities paying tribute to a man known for his common touch - a man who related to princes and paupers with equal ease.
Waiting to see their hero: This image shows thousands of South Africans queuing for around two miles to get on buses to take them to view Nelson Mandela's body
Determined: Mourners then faced huge queues at the Union Buildings where Mr Mandela's body is lying in state
Time to grief: Nelson Mandela was today given back to ordinary South Africans on a day of viewing reserved for the solely for the general public
Anti-apartheid icon: Nelson Mandela's body is transported from the mortuary to the government buildings on each of the three morning his coffin lies in state
One mourner, Anita Bodiba, 35, said: 'I can't even sleep, I'm thinking of Madiba. He is the one who united us here in South Africa - white people, black people, Indian people'
Overwhelming popularity: Hundreds of mourners queue for buses before heading to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where Nelson Mandela's body is lying in state
A day for the people: Until now the cameras of the world have often been trained on leaders, VIPs and celebrities paying tribute to a man known for his common touch
Ordinary mourners from all walks of life had also queued for hours on end yesterday to view the body, but many were turned away by evening without having made it to the front of the long, winding line of people united in grief and gratitude for the father of their democratic nation.
Many returned today for another chance, with the entire day given over to general public access.
'My heart is so broken,' said Anita Bodiba, 35, who arrived at the seat of government, the Union Buildings, hours before dawn to join the long queue that had already formed.
'I can't even sleep, I'm thinking of Madiba. He is the one who united us here in South Africa - white people, black people, Indian people,' she said - using the clan name by which the democracy icon is fondly known.
Patient: People standing in line as they queue to view the coffin during the lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Day trip: People with umbrellas queue along a road on the second of three days of public viewing set aside to see Mr Mandela's body
Lying in state: Many returned to the Union Buildings for another chance to see the late leader's body, with the entire day given over to general public access
On Wednesday, Mandela's distraught widow Graca Machel and other family members were followed by presidents, royalty and other international figures in paying their last respects in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings where the Nobel laureate is laying in state.
It was here that he was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president in 1994, after emerging from 27 years' imprisonment.
A third day of lying in state will be held Friday, after which Mandela's body will be transported to his boyhood home of Qunu, ahead of its eventual burial on Sunday.
Thursday's programme began, as the day before, with Mandela's casket brought in a solemn cortege from the 1 Military Hospital to the Union Buildings.
Hoping to get their chance: Visitors arrive by bus to line up to pay their respects to former South African President Nelson Mandela
Visitors leave after viewing the body of Nelson Mandela who died at his home last Thursday at the age of 95
Thousands lined the route as a black hearse, flanked by motorcycle outriders, carried the flag-draped coffin on its journey through the streets of Pretoria.
In the Union Buildings amphitheatre, soon to be renamed after him, Mandela's body lies underneath a perspex screen, dressed in the type of printed shirt that became his trademark.
Two navy officers stood by the coffin, their eyes downcast, and Mandela's grandson Mandla sat in a chair on the platform supporting the coffin.
All walks of life: A police officer helps an elderly lady line up to view the body of former South African president Nelson Mandela
Reflecting: A visitor pauses after viewing the body of Nelson Mandela which was brought to the Union buildings in a cortege from the 1 Military Hospital
Respect: Nelson Mandela's body will lie in state for three days as part of ten days of events commemorating the life of Mr Mandela
Celebrating his life: A street vendor wears a button with an image of former South African president Nelson Mandela outside the Union BuildingsSome visitors collapsed as they passed the coffin, felled by the weight of their grief, and were helped away by medical personnel and fellow mourners.
'It was so sad,' Alinah Lekalakala, 52, said after seeing the body of her icon.
'I needed to pay my last respects because I am so grateful for what he has done. This will help me to accept that he is gone.'
Emotional: A mourner walks away after viewing Nelson Mandela's body on Wednesday when many people were turned away before getting a chance to see him
Overcome: A mourner weeps into her scarf while holding a South African flag after paying her respects to Mr Mandela
For Tryphina Kau, 78, the event was a joyful one.
'I am very, very happy because his spirit is still with us, only the body is going,' she said, recounting the day that Mandela shook her hand while she queued to vote in South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994.
'I saw him at the beginning, and I came to see him at the end.'
Mixed emotions: Children at a Christmas Party celebrating the life of former South African president Nelson Mandela at the museum in Qunu
Lighting up people's lives: A flame burns in honour of former South African president Nelson Mandela at the museum in Qunu
Worldwide appeal: A woman writes her condolences in a book for Nelson Mandela during a memorial service at the Sint-Gudule Cathedral in Brussels
Lebogang Phillips, a 36-year-old police officer who had served on Mandela's security detail when he was president, remembered the man as 'the friendliest person I have ever met'.
'When meeting people, he would always try to speak their language, whatever it was.'
The line of people queueing to catch a glimpse of their hero was already several city blocks shortly after dawn, and continued snaking around streets surrounding the Union Buildings by lunchtime.
Preparations: Police stop cars from using a main road running past Nelson Mandela's home as the construction of a dome is completed that will be used at his funeral
Some mourners were dressed in the vibrant yellow, green and black of the ruling African National Congress that Mandela once led, and many wore black armbands.
People carried posters bearing Mandela's likeness and many clutched miniature South African flags, dancing and singing revolutionary songs from the liberation struggle era as helicopters hovered overhead.
White South African siblings Sean and Louise Bos, 21 and 19 respectively, flew from Cape Town on Wednesday morning to be part of the historic occasion.
They queued until closing time without making it to the front, then returned at 5.30am today, queueing about five hours to see him.
'We never met him so we thought we'd come to say goodbye,' said Sean, as the pair rushed to catch a plane home afterwards