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Africa

‘Mandela was just a man’

© Sarah Leduc

Text by Sarah LEDUC

Latest update : 2013-12-12

“Mandela was just a man,” mourner Joseph Mogajana told FRANCE 24 as he left the Union Building in Pretoria where Nelson Mandela’s body has been on display ahead of his funeral this Sunday.

Joseph’s face is a picture of calm among the other visitors, many of them overcome with grief. He seems even a bit deflated after his mere two-second viewing of the “Father of the Nation”.

“I thought he would look like he did in the photographs,” he said. “But he looks changed. I thought he would look better. But after all, he was only a man.”

“When I was told that Madiba [Mandela’s tribal name] was dead, I didn’t fully believe it,” Joseph mused. “But seeing him, I finally accepted that he will not be coming back.”

But those two seconds, and the arduous journey and wait to see the body, cemented much more for Joseph than the final acceptance that Mandela was dead.

Ebbing enthusiasm of the crowd

Joseph, 55, took a day off from his part-time work to see Mandela’s body. He left his home in the Mamelodi township early on Wednesday and was in the bus queue, set up by the Pretoria city authorities, by 8am.

By 11.30am a queue several hundreds of metres long had formed outside the Union Building. It continued to grow throughout the day and one local official estimated that 10,000 people were waiting to see Mandela’s body.

Joseph waited patiently for his turn. Like most of the other people waiting with him, he had no food and no water, despite the blazing heat.

Volunteers for the ruling African National Congress promised the crowd that everyone would get their turn – but the arrival of ever more busses throughout the afternoon made this seem less and less likely.

The enthusiasm of the crowd began to ebb. And as the sun beat down on young and old, men and women, some pregnant or with small children, the happy atmosphere of celebration turned to frustration and even anger.

Very quickly there was a realisation that most of the people in the queue would not get to see Mandela after all.

Every day at 5pm his body is taken frolm the Union building to Pretoria’s military hospital, and time was running short.

“I never saw Mandela when he was alive and this is my last chance to catch a glimpse of him,” said one exasperated woman in the queue.

But Joseph would not lose hope. And assailed by the fierce afternoon heat, he talked about his life and what Mandela meant to him.

‘Mandela opened doors for us’

Born in 1959, Joseph Mogajana has experienced much worse than a badly organised queue.

“It reminds me of the day that I voted for the first time, when there were thousands of people waiting to cast their vote,” he said, remembering the 1994 election that bought Mandela to power. “It was thanks to Mandela that we could vote at all. It is also thanks to Mandela that I can even talk to a reporter today.”

“Before that, blacks couldn’t mix with whites,” he said. “I would have been arrested just for answering your questions. In those days, they could have killed me like a chicken.”

Joseph grew up in the Mamelodi township of Pretoria, where he still lives, and at the farm in the North West province where his grandparents eked out a living.

He went to school one day in two, the off days spent looking after the cattle and sheep owned by white farmers.

“We weren’t encouraged to learn,” he said. “There weren’t enough schools anyway, and we had our classes in the shade of trees.”

But if South Africa’s black community is still mired in poverty and racial division, Joseph has hope for future generations.

“Mandela opened doors for us,” he said. “We were given our freedom, but no one told us what to do with it. It has been difficult for my generation. But it will be better for our children, if they work at it.”

“Mandela fought for our country all his life, so I have no problem waiting for a while under the sun to see him, even if it is for just two seconds,” he added.

Joseph’s lesson in patience was well rewarded. Just as the gates were being shut and the Union Building closed for another night, they let the last five people through.

Joseph was one of them.

Date created : 2013-12-12

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