South Africans flood the streets to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela

In death, as in life, Madiba brings citizens together


Mourners sing and dance to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (Ben Curtis/AP)

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — The streets of South Africa belong to Nelson Mandela. Throughout the country, from Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africans of all creeds and colours are determined to honour the man they call the father of their nation. In the 24 hours after news broke that the beloved statesman has died, the country has gone into Mandela overdrive. Television and radio stations are dominated by Mandela news and tributes. Even the music is dedicated to Madiba, as he is affectionately known in the country. This morning, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan was playing on the radio, a sorrowful Canadian contribution to the momentous time.

On Friday, the South African presidency said Mandela will receive a state funeral, as it outlined key events that will shape the country’s next nine days as it mourns its former president. Sunday, Dec. 8, will be a national day of prayer and reflection. On Dec. 10, the official memorial service will be held at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Then, for three days Mandela’s body will lie at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Finally, on Dec. 15, Mandela will be buried in Qunu, his hometown in the Eastern Cape province. “The outpouring of love that we experienced locally and abroad was unprecedented,” said President Jacob Zuma, “it demonstrates the calibre of leader that was Madiba.”

Free from work on Friday afternoon, South Africans are rushing to commemorate Mandela. Outside Mandela’s home in Houghton, a posh suburb in Johannesburg, hundreds of people have gathered to sing and dance and celebrate his life. Cars are parked helter-skelter on the roads and sidewalks for kilometres. In order to control the rush, police have cordoned off street blocks with yellow tape and wire fencing.

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More people—families, teens, and seniors—continue to arrive in bigger and bigger waves as the night goes on. Rarely do you see such diversity in one place in South Africa, a country that, while equal, is still segregated in many ways. Today in Houghton, businessmen in crisp suits stood alongside domestic workers in worn slippers.

South Africans are trapped between mourning for Mandela and celebrating his influential life. “I’m sad but I know he wanted us to be happy,” says Jarryd Webster, a 16-year-old who travelled to Houghton from Benoni, a town East of Johannesburg. “He didn’t want us to mourn his death, he wanted us to rejoice it.”

Many young people were thankful for the profound impact Mandela has on their lives. “We’re the generation that has experienced the most freedom,” says Boitumelo Makoea, an economics student at the University of South Africa in Johannesburg. “We’re here to pay homage to that,” says the 20-year-old, who is dressed in black. “It’s time we let him go, and accept his time on earth has been served.”

Some expressed relief that Mandela is finally resting in peace. “I think he is with God and is free from any sickness,” says Rita Dlongolo, a 42-year-old domestic worker wearing a beige uniform with an apron. “I’m here to pray.”

Heading into the weekend, the nationwide outpouring of emotion will continue. For many, it’s easier to grieve together than alone. Mandela is, yet again, unifying South Africa.

“I believe you can’t be sad if you are here,” says Nkosiyabo Hcube, a 20-year-old marketing student at the University of South Africa in Johannesburg.

“It brings people’s spirits up,” says Hcube of the group celebration. “At the funeral it will be emotional and we will be touched, but for now, this is where it’s at.”


South Africans flood the streets to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela

  1. Not a good time to wander certain streets if you are white – just wait and see.

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