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'Madiba not just for blacks but for all!'

Charlotte Boitiaux

Throngs of South Africans have gathered outside the hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated to show their support for the critically ill former president, but white faces in the crowd are few and far between.


, reporting from South Africa

As Nelson Mandela lies in a hospital bed with his health in a critical condition, throngs of South Africans have gathered outside the Pretoria clinic where he is being treated to show their support and pay homage to the man they call by his tribal name ‘Madiba’.

But apart from the scores of western journalists, the crowds at the gates of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital are almost exclusively of one colour, with barely a white face visible among the masses - a situation that has caused bemusement and even a sense of anger.

“Why have no whites come here to pay their respects or say a nice word for Madiba?” asks 29-year-old Comfort. “Madiba is not just a figure for blacks but for all the people!”

As Comfort speaks he does so in a lowered voice, but those around him still turn away at the very mention of colour. Clearly, 20 years after apartheid ended, race is still a sensitive subject in South Africa

‘The whites are afraid’

As night falls, tongues become looser, although opinions are still expressed in whispers.

“It’s shameful, after all he has done for the country,” Moses, a friend of Comfort, also aged 29, says suddenly. “Not a single white has come to support or honour him.”

For Moses and others like him, the reason is clear: the whites “are afraid”. Masabata, a security guard from Pretoria, believes that whites have stayed away because “they know that Mandela’s death will change things”.

“Once Mandela dies, they think blacks will take their homes, their jobs,” elaborates Ben, a 29-year-old pharmacist. “They tell themselves that as long as Madiba lives there’ll be no fighting because it would cause too much pain for the former president [who has fought for national reconciliation since his release from prison in1990]. But after [his death], everything will change, you will see.”

Many South Africans, such as Rejoice, a mother who came with her sons to leave a bouquet of flowers outside the hospital entrance, dismiss such views as “crazy”. But others, like Miken, the only white person to be spotted in the crowd, are not so sure.

“You’re talking about difficult questions that no one wants to ask. But, ok, you want the truth?” says the businessman, hand covering his mouth as if someone may be trying to read his lips.

“Some whites don’t like the blacks. Some of my white friends don’t want to see them. That’s why they live in their own neighbourhoods, amongst themselves, they consider themselves superior.

“They think Mandela caused them to lose the country. They don’t respect him,” he adds, his voice still lowered.

“Me, I don’t say anything but I don’t agree, I think Mandela is a great man,” continued Miken, pointing to the bouquet of roses he came to lay outside the hospital.

“So no, I’m not surprised I’m the only white here, we don’t really mix with each other in Pretoria.

“Here, you’ll see that apartheid never really ended.”

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