Thousands of South Africans viewed the body of Nelson Mandela today outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where it will lie in state for two more days.
Mandela’s coffin lay within a temporary mahogany structure in the open-air amphitheater with his head and shoulders visible behind a glass cover. The first to file past his body were South African President Jacob Zuma, Mandela’s widow Graca Machel and former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and followed later by F.W. de Klerk, the nation’s last white leader who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela.
“I felt very emotional,” said Al-Marie Chaffey, 47, who traveled to Pretoria from Johannesburg with her husband and 16-year-old son. “My wish is that each of us as individuals will take his legacy forward and never forget what he did and why.”
Mourners were turned away late this afternoon, the government said, citing “very strict military protocals” that ends public viewing at 5:30 p.m. local time. It had been expecting as many as 2,000 people an hour to file past Mandela’s coffin. His body will be transported on Dec. 14 to Qunu, the village where he spent part of his childhood in the Eastern Cape province, before his funeral the next day.
Thousands of people waited since sunrise outside the Union Buildings, the nation’s seat of government, to see Mandela’s body. The lines were longer than those during the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, Johan Moyane, 52, said as he waited to view the body.
Mourners were taken by bus to the amphitheater from three pickup points around Pretoria after being screened by security. Some chose to walk through nearby gardens and sign memorial books.
“I want my child to know Mandela has fought for her,” Cynthia Shipalana, 27, said as she waited in line with her six-year-old daughter. “She should see him and tell her grandchildren about this day.”
Mandela’s hearse moved through the capital’s streets early today, passing about a thousand singing bystanders as military helicopters hovered overhead. Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, led a small group of mourners wearing black who walked behind the coffin as it entered the amphitheater, which is now named after the former president.
At a memorial service yesterday at the country’s biggest stadium in Soweto, a township southwest of Johannesburg, President Barack Obama called Mandela “the last great liberator of the 20th century.”
The event attended by at least 91 foreign dignitaries -- including Cuban leader Raul Castro, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao -- wasn’t without controversy. A sign-language interpreter used alongside speakers at the FNB Stadium, including Obama, was called a “fake” today by the Deaf Federation of South Africa, for using meaningless hand gestures.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house in Cape Town was also broken into yesterday evening, hours after he spoke at the memorial, his spokesman Roger Friedman said by phone today.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting to end white minority rule and won universal acclaim for negotiating a peaceful transition to democracy. He died on Dec. 5 at his Johannesburg home following a year of illness.
“No words can express how grateful we are to you,” Tshego Sebatjame said in a handwritten note pinned to a World War I memorial outside the Union Buildings. “We thank God for having blessed us with a generous, thoughtful, forgiving human being.”