US PRESIDENT Barack Obama will give the lead tribute by a foreign dignitary at the State Memorial Service for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
The service, which starts at 11am Johannesburg-time, or 8pm AEST, will begin with a mass choir performing the national anthem, followed by family tributes.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will speak, followed by President Obama, President Dilma Rouseff of Brazil, Vice-President Li Yuanchao of China, and Presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia and Pranab Mukherjee of India.
The brother of Fidel Castro, President Raul Castro Ruz of Cuba, will also speak.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten are in Johannesburg for the event.
The official program states that former President Mandela "passed on peacefully in the company" of his family at around 8.50pm on Thursday evening.
South Africans will turn out in huge numbers for the event, to be held at the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium outside Soweto.
Many told News Corp Australia that they considered their personal obligation to attend and give thanks to the man who freed their nation from Apartheid.
Mr Mandela is survived by his wife, Graca, three daughters, 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His two sons preceded him in death.
While serving a life sentence that turned to 27 years, Mandela rejected offers to receive a conditional release if he renounced violence.
"Prisoners cannot enter contracts," he told them. "Only free men can negotiate."
Mandela’s body will not be displayed at the service. He will be buried at his hometown of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, on Sunday.