With VIPs gone, South Africans get Madiba back
Nelson Mandela was given back to ordinary South Africans Thursday, who queued in their thousands from early morning to file past his open casket on a day of viewing reserved for the public.
On Wednesday, the cameras of the world had been trained on world leaders, VIPs and celebrities paying tribute to a man known for his common touch — relating to princes and paupers with equal ease.
Ordinary mourners from all walks of life had also queued in their thousands 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 on Thursday 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, at 4:30 am (0230 GMT) 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.
On Wednesday, Mandela’s distraught widow Graca Machel and other family members had been followed by presidents, royalty and other international figures in paying their last respects in the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings where the Nobel laureate lay in state.
It was here that he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president in 1994, having emerged 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 being brought in a solemn cortege from the 1 Military Hospital to the Union Buildings.
Thousands lined the route as a black hearse, flanked by motorcycle outriders, carried the flag-draped coffin on its solemn journey through the streets of Pretoria.
In the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings, 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.
On Wednesday, some visitors collapsed as they passed, felled by the weight of their grief, before being helped away by medical personnel or fellow mourners.
“It is going to be hard to see him like this,” said Bodiba, one of those who returned on Thursday after several hours of fruitless waiting the previous day.
“I need to accept that he is gone. That is why I am here.”
Added fellow mourner Maria Seloba, 38: “It is important for us to see him to get closure. We are hurting, but to see him lying there, perhaps will help us heal.”
Nthabiseng Seloba, 14, is part of a generation born after apartheid ended, but said she came to honour Mandela as a “freedom fighter.”
“Apartheid was bad, they were not allowed to vote,” she said, pointing to older people around her.
“He encouraged us young people, he told us education is the key to our future.”
By 7:00 am, the queue of people hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero was already several city blocks long.
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 Vicky Joubert, 40, brought her 11-year-old daughter to pay tribute to a man who earned a place in history long before his death.
“It is sad for everyone,” she said.