Mourners Swamp Last Goodbye for Mandela

Friday, 13 Dec 2013 10:13 AM

 

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PRETORIA, South Africa — The last day of Nelson Mandela's formal lying in state on Friday was overwhelmed by mourners desperate to say a final, personal farewell to the anti-apartheid icon.

Barely two hours after opening the top of the casket for viewing, the government said it would be unable to accommodate all those waiting and appealed for people to stay away.

Friday was the last opportunity to view the body of South Africa's first black president in Pretoria, before it is transported to his boyhood village of Qunu for burial on Sunday.

Large numbers had camped out to secure an early place in the queue, but as of 7:30 am there were already 50,000 waiting for buses to the Union Buildings — the seat of government where the coffin has been laid out for three days.

"We urge people to please NOT make their way to the park and ride facilities," the government information service said in a written statement.

"Any additional numbers will make it physically impossible for people to be safely transported to the Union Buildings and get the opportunity to file past the body," it said.

But many had already been turned away the day before, and were determined not to miss out again.

Nosiswe Maduna and her 14-year-old daughter had queued vainly for hours on Thursday after traveling 220 kilometers (135 miles) from Senekal in Free State Province.

"It was my daughter who said we should sleep here and try again, because she didn't want to go back without seeing him," Maduna said.

They spent the night in the open at a petrol station and began lining up at 3:00 am so as not to be disappointed again.

For those who did manage to enter the venue, the last glimpse of Mandela prompted powerful feelings.

"It's truly a moving event. As you walk past his body, you're overcome with emotion," said Sakib Khan, a British national living in South Africa since 2002.

Mandela's body is scheduled to be taken to Waterkloof air force base early Saturday morning, for the two-hour flight to Qunu in Eastern Cape province, where he grew up.

On Sunday, some 5,000 people, including foreign dignitaries and senior political figures, are expected to participate in a formal, two-hour ceremony beginning at 8:00 am.

But the actual burial will be a strictly private affair, barred to both the general public and the media, government spokeswoman Phumla Williams told AFP.

"The family has indicated they want to make the burial a family matter," Williams said.

"They don't want it to be televised. They don't want people to see when the body is taken down," she added.

Around 3,000 members of the media have already descended on Qunu where a special stage and marquee have been erected for the invited guests who include Britain's Prince Charles.

The funeral will be held according to traditional Xhosa rites overseen by male members of Mandela's clan.

The slaughtering of an animal — a ritual performed through various milestones of a person's life — will form a crucial part of the event.

"A funeral is an intricate ceremony that involves communicating with the ancestors and allowing the spirit of the departed person to rest," said Chief Jonginyaniso Mtirara of the Thembu clan that Mandela hails from.

During the ceremony, Mandela will be referred to as Dalibhunga — the name given to him at the age of 16 as he entered adulthood.

Although Mandela never publicly declared his religious denomination, his family comes from a Methodist background.

While Qunu residents are expected to benefit from the status that will be attached to their village as Mandela's final resting place, some are upset they will not be given a chance to view the body before burial.

"No one thought of us," said Nomakula Mfikeleli, 61, who like many others in the village could not afford the time or money to travel to Pretoria for the lying in state.

"We would have loved to be given a chance to bid him farewell . . . like we have seen others doing on television," Mfikeleli said.

Mandela always spoke nostalgically of what he remembered as an idyllic early childhood in the rolling hills around Qunu.

"From these days I date my love of the veld [grassland], of open spaces, the simple beauties of nature, the clean lines of the horizon," Mandela wrote in his memoir "Long Walk to Freedom."

He will be buried in the family estate he built there following his release from prison in 1990.

© AFP 2014

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