South Africans from black townships to mainly white suburbs united in prayer and song to commemorate Nelson Mandela, the man who led the nation out of racial discord, after his death at the age of 95.
Residents of Johannesburg flocked to Mandela’s home in the suburb of Houghton, and sang outside his former house in Soweto, a township southwest of the city. In Cape Town, a crowd of people waved South African flags. A period of national mourning following the death of Mandela, widely known by his clan name Madiba, is due to culminate when he’s buried in his home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province on Dec. 15.
“I am not going to mourn Madiba,” Mpho Masemola, the deputy secretary of the ex-political prisoners association of South Africa, who spent five years in prison with Mandela, said in an interview. “I’m going to celebrate his legacy.”
Mandela encouraged reconciliation after becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994, when white majority-rule, or apartheid, ended. He had been ill for about a year, most recently with a lung infection, and died peacefully at his Johannesburg home on Dec. 5, according to President Jacob Zuma.
“He has served us with such integrity, did so much for us and it’s time for him to go,” said Michael Mpanza, 48, who works in the national airline’s finance department and came to pay homage at Mandela’s Houghton home. “We celebrate all the things that he’s done for us. I’ll stay here for as long as my legs can carry me.”
Posters bearing the logo of the ruling African National Congress were attached to lamp posts leading to Mandela’s property, while hawkers set up stores selling green and gold rugby shirts bearing the image of Mandela clenching his fist. Residents in the area attached South African flags to their gates.
Mandela’s body will lie in state from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 at the government’s executive headquarters at the Union Buildings in the capital, Pretoria. Mourners will be allowed to file past his open casket, which will be protected by a transparent covering, and a static camera feed will be located at the venue for broadcast, Neo Momodu, a spokeswoman for the Government Communication and Information Service, told reporters in Johannesburg today.
People will be allowed to line the streets along the route that Mandela’s remains will be transported to and from the morgue to the Union Buildings over the three days, Momodu said.
Zuma declared tomorrow a day of national prayer and reflection, with religious services planned across the country. A special parliamentary sitting is planned for Dec. 9.
A memorial service will take place on Dec. 10 at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, the 94-000 seat venue where the final of the 2010 Soccer World Cup took place. About 9,000 mourners are expected to attend the funeral in Qunu, according to the government.
“We should, while mourning, also sing at the top of our voices, dance and do whatever we want to do, to celebrate the life of this outstanding revolutionary,” Zuma, who plans to attend a church service in Johannesburg tomorrow, said in a statement today. “Let us sing for Madiba.”
Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will join President Barack Obama on his trip to South Africa next week to attend memorial events, according to their spokesmen.
About 3,000 people braved a howling wind yesterday to attend an interdenominational service on the Grand Parade in front of Cape Town’s city hall, where Mandela delivered his first address after his release from prison in 1990. Religious leaders said prayers on a stage flanked by two huge posters of Mandela, as members of the crowd stacked bunches of flowers against the barricades and wrote messages of condolence in books provided by the city.
“Madiba was simply the greatest South African to have ever lived,” Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, who is also leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, told reporters. “He showed us that power is not status and all the trappings that come with the protocols associated with power. We have an extraordinary legacy to live up to.”
Visitors today packed out a ferry to visit Robben Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Cape Town, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison and is now a museum. A tent was set up outside the mainland ferry station at the city’s Waterfront shopping center with a photo of Mandela, a candle and condolence books.
“We should never forget about this great man,” Lucas Letsholo, 65, who runs a transport business in the northwest town of Rustenberg, said after buying tickets to visit the island. “Our children must also know what he did. He was the one who made South Africa what it is today.”
In Qunu, almost 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Johannesburg, well-wishers and local chiefs came to pay their respects. Mandela, who was married three times, had six children, three of whom died and are buried in Qunu.
Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with F.W. de Klerk, the last white president, for negotiating a peaceful end to apartheid.
After a single five-year term as president, Mandela became a champion in the fight against AIDS, disclosing that one of his sons died from the disease. He retired from public life in 2004 and was last seen publicly at the soccer World Cup in Johannesburg three years ago.
“You just have to celebrate his life,” engineer Godfrey Mamashela, 28, said as he waited to write a message of condolence at the entrance to Johannesburg’s Carlton Center shopping mall. “I’m just going to say thank you. I don’t think I would be where I am today if it weren’t for him.”
Fellow Nobel Peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 82, called on South Africans to unify as they mourn Mandela.
“Some have suggested that after he is gone, as he is now gone, our country is going to go up in flames,” Tutu told reporters in Cape Town yesterday. “This is to discredit us as South Africans, to discredit his legacy. The sun will go up tomorrow. Life will carry on.”
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