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PRETORIA, South Africa — Thousands of people waited in long lines to pay their respects to South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela Wednesday, whose body arrived in the country's capital Pretoria where it will lie in state for three days.

On a warm and sunny day, many — mostly black, but some whites, too — waited for buses that will take them to an amphitheater at the Union Buildings, once a symbol of the racist, white-dominated government in the country, where the anti-apartheid leader's casket is on display.

Mutshidzi Bulannga, 15, and her brother, Muano Munyai, 17, were standing in the shade of a tree waiting for one of the buses. "This is the last time we can see one of the greatest icons in the world," Munyai says.

Bulannga says Munyai wants to become a doctor. She says she's learned enough about apartheid to know that her parents and grandparents would never have had the opportunity to study medicine.

"I wouldn't have been able to cope," she says. "(Mandela) has changed lots of things. Things here are so much easier now."

When Mandela took office in 1994, he used the Union Buildings as his offices and the presidency is still located there. It is the same location where he was sworn in as president.

President Jacob Zuma named the amphitheater after Mandela by decree Tuesday.

The Union Buildings, which have been described by the South African government as a "modern-day acropolis," sit atop a hill overlooking Pretoria.

Family members and invited officials have been viewing Mandela's body this morning and the public has been allowed to file past his casket from noon local time (5 a.m. ET).

The mood on the line was more somber and serious than the festive atmosphere of Tuesday's memorial service, when tens of thousands of South Africans joined world leaders and other dignitaries for a memorial service on the outskirts of Johannesburg honoring the man President Obama eulogized as "the last great liberator of the 20th century."

In Pretoria, people waited patiently on line, many with umbrellas to shield them from the hot sun.

Kagiso Mocumi, 33, of Lanseria, a mother of two and a real-estate agent, says she was there to say, "Tata I love you."

South Africans often refer to Mandela affectionately as "Tata."

"I have a lot to be grateful to him for. He gave us the freedom to dream," Mocumi says. "He made us citizens of our own land. He gave me freedom. My children are free today because of him."

Mandela stepped down from the presidency in 1999 and his last public appearance was at the World Cup in 2010. He died Thursday night at age 95.

Mandela's casket will travel to Qunu — his home village in the Eastern Cape — for his funeral on Sunday, which is expected to be a more private and low-key affair.

FULL COVERAGE:Remembering Nelson Mandela

Contributing: William Welch, William Dermody, Associated Press

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