S.Africa's anti-apartheid church remembers, thanks Mandela

9th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

Worshippers in a Soweto church which is a symbol of the resistance against apartheid on Sunday remembered Nelson Mandela, South Africa's ailing icon who was in hospital for a second day.

Sunday mass at Regina Mundi Catholic Church began with Father Sebastian Rossouw telling the parish to "remember Madiba, who is not well", referring to Mandela by his clan name.

"Today, in a special way, we remember and thank him for what he has done," Rossouw told some 2,000 worshippers.

Many offered up prayers for the peace icon at the church, which is decorated with stained glass of people raising their hands in the air -- among one of those featured is Mandela.

Some were visibly moved. One woman had a tear running down her face, while another was wiping her eyes.

One worshipper acknowledged that Mandela is turning 95 next month, but said it was still painful to learn of his latest hospitalisation.

"We're all worried because when he dies we don't know what's going to happen. We don't know, really," said Maria Onika.

She said she "was so hurt" when she learnt that Mandela had been re-hospitalised.

"And when I was praying I put him in my prayers so that he must get well," she said after mass.

Mandela was mentioned several times during the service, which lasted two and a half hours.

The church was built in 1964, the year that Mandela was jailed on a life sentence, and towers over the single-storey mainly middle class houses surrounding it.

It became a sanctuary for survivors of the 1976 Soweto uprising when white police gunned down black students demanding a better education.

Scores of people were killed in the widespread riots that followed the shooting.

Mandela had in 1997 described it as "a literal battlefield between forces of democracy and those who did not hesitate to violate a place of religion with teargas, dogs and guns".

"Regina Mundi became a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves," Mandela said then.

A few metres from the church is a house with walls that are painted with large images of the anti-apartheid icon.

Known as the "people's cathedral" during the years of struggle, the church is now one of the top tourist attractions of Soweto.

Tourists quietly walk in and out, take photographs -- even during the Sunday mass.

It was also on the itinerary for visiting dignitaries such as United States first lady Michelle Obama and then president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary.

In the church garden is a stone memorial erected to commemorate victims of the Soweto uprising.

Soweto, Johannesburg's largest township to which blacks were confined under the white minority rule, was a bedrock of the anti-apartheid resistance.

Mandela's former home in the township has been turned into a museum, located in the same street as fellow anti-apartheid hero and Nobel peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

© 2013 AFP

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