Thousands of mourners formed a queue that at one point stretched back for a mile to pay their final respects to Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria Wednesday, where the former leader’s open casket will lay in state for three days.
Thousands of emotional mourners lined-up to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela Wednesday as the much-loved former leader lay in state.
The anti-apartheid hero’s distraught widow, family members, presidents, royalty and thousands of ordinary South Africans were among those who turned out to pay their final respects before Mandela’s open casket at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he will lie in state for three days.
Some stopped briefly to pray, some bowed and some brushed against the rope balustrade to get a closer look at the mortal remains of a man who had earned a place in history long before his death.
Some collapsed, felled by the weight of their grief, before being helped away by medical personnel on standby or fellow onlookers.
"I was just feeling sad when I saw him lying there as if he can wake up. As if I can say 'Mr Mandela, how are you?'" said 44-year-old Anna Mtsoweni, who had joined the queue before dawn.
Among the dignitaries were former South African president FW de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for ending apartheid.
"I hope that his focus on lasting reconciliation will live and will bloom in South Africa,” he said.
Thousands more people who were in the queue, which at one point stretched for around one and a half kilometres (one mile), were unable to view the lying in state.
They, along with thousands of others, will get a second chance on Thursday.
Earlier, a black hearse, flanked by 16 motorcycle outriders, carried Mandela's flag-draped coffin on a solemn journey through the streets of Pretoria, the South African capital.
‘End of an era’
Flag-waving South Africans lined the streets, forming a public guard of honour.
"I never met Mandela, so this is my only chance and it's important I pay my respects. I'm South African -- I have to be here," said 28-year-old Vaughan Motshwene.
Some cheered but many were tearful, perhaps aware that Mandela's death on Thursday meant a new chapter in South African history.
"It feels like the end of an era. All the opportunities I've had growing up that my parents never had, Madiba gave me that," said government employee Faaiqia Hartley, 27.
"He gave all of us an opportunity to be the best we could be."
Once at the Union Buildings, the seat of the South African government, the coffin was finally placed on a cubic platform in the building's amphitheatre, soon to be renamed in his honour.
It is the same place where, two decades ago, Mandela was sworn in as the country's first black president, sealing the rebirth of this long-troubled nation.
The procession and the viewing will be repeated for the next two days, before Mandela's body is transported to his childhood home in Qunu where he will be buried on Sunday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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Date created : 2013-12-11