Young and old filled the stands at the Ngangelizwe Rotary Stadium, three tents, or sat on the grass on the pitch, sheltering from the Eastern Cape heat under colourful umbrellas.
A long red carpet ran from the middle of the field to the main stage.
Most of the women and girls wore white shirts or tops and blue skirts. Many of the men were clad in blue suits and white shirts.
The street leading to the stadium was chaotic on Sunday morning as many tried to get to the stadium. Officials at the gate directed motorists where to park.
The service was one of three on Sunday expected to be attended by African National Congress members in the province.
Secretary general Gwede Mantashe was expected to attend. Eastern Cape premier Noxolo Kievet was already present.
Mandela died aged 95 at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home on Thursday. He would be buried in Qunu next Sunday.