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South Africans gather to celebrate Mandela’s life


South Africans gathered Friday to pay tribute to former president Nelson Mandela, celebrating his life with song, music and dance. The anti-apartheid hero will be buried in his home town of Qunu next Sunday.


Residents of the black township of Soweto on Friday gathered in the streets near the house where the revered anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela had once lived, singing and dancing to mourn his death and celebrate his long, eventful life.

The people of South Africa reacted Friday with deep sadness to the loss of a man considered by many to be the father of the nation, while mourners said it was also a time to celebrate the achievements of the anti-apartheid leader who emerged from prison to become South Africa’s first black president.

President Jacob Zuma announced the news of Mandela’s death Thursday night on television, saying the 95-year-old known affectionately by his clan name “Madiba” had died “peacefully” at around 8:50 p.m. while in the company of his family.

“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”

The president said all national flags would be lowered to half-mast from Friday until Mandela’s state funeral.

Coming to terms with a South Africa without Mandela

Ayesha Ismail, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in South Africa, said “South Africa is certainly a country in mourning right now. This is probably the saddest day in the history of this country. People are still in shock. They are still trying to come to terms with what it means to have a South Africa without Nelson Mandela.”

'the first day without mandela'

Late Thursday, South African journalist Brendan Boyle tweeted: “First sleep in a Mandela-less world. We’re on our own now. “

In the black of night, several hundred people milled around outside Mandela’s home in the leafy Houghton neighbourhood of Johannesburg. The mood was lively rather than sombre. Some sang and swayed. A man blew on a vuvuzela, the plastic horn widely used at World Cup soccer games in South Africa in 2010. Another marched toward the house and shouted: “Nelson!” People photographed a makeshift shrine of candles, a national flag and bouquets of flowers. A framed portrait of a smiling Mandela was propped against a tree with the caption: “Rest in peace, Madiba.”

Mandela had been receiving medical care at his home in past months, where he had been in critical condition.

Celebrating Mandela’s life

Some residents of Soweto gathered in front of Nelson Mandela’s former home, now a tourist attraction, in the early hours of the morning to mark his death.

About 40 people formed a circle in the middle of Vilakazi Street and sang songs from the anti-apartheid struggle. Some people were draped in South African flags and the green, yellow and black colors of Mandela’s party, the African National Congress.

“We have not seen Mandela in the place where he is, in the place where he is kept,” they sang, a lyric that anti-apartheid protesters had sung during Mandela’s long incarceration.

“We are celebrating his life and all that he did for us,” said Terry Mokoena, 47, who had taped the words “Rest in Peace” on his Mandela T-shirt. “I am happy that he is now at peace. He has done so much for us; it would be greedy for us to say that he should do more. Mandela united us – black, white, colored and Indian – he taught us togetherness.”

‘Represented freedom and equality’

At Nelson Mandela Square in the upscale Sandton neighbourhood of Johannesburg, six people stood at the foot of a six-metre bronze statue of Mandela, paying homage to the leader. The six were two whites, two blacks and two of Indian descent, representing South Africa’s “rainbow nation” that Mandela had fought and sacrificed for.

“For 23 years, I walked a path with this man since he was released,” said Sonja Pocock, a white 46-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative. “I’m from the old regime. He’s like my grandfather. He is my grandfather.”

The blonde sales executive burst into tears.

Krezaan Schoeman, a 38-year-old Afrikaner colleague of Pocock’s, spoke as her friend went to arrange some red flowers she had laid at the statue’s feet. It was past midnight and the square, ringed by restaurants with Christmas lights arrayed on fake trees casting a silvery glow, was mostly empty.

“I admired him. He stood for something, for freedom and equality,” Schoeman said.

“Even if some say he was a terrorist, he stood for his beliefs. Everybody’s got a right to life. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white. That’s what he stood for. And for forgiveness.”

Big gatherings of mourners were expected in coming days as the country prepares a formal farewell for a man who helped guide the country from racial conflict to all-race elections in 1994.

“He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to empathize with others,” retired archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement. “He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.”

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, said he and Mandela first met each other in 1989 and concluded they could do business with each other as the country embarked on its long-awaited transition to democratic rule.

“Although we were political opponents – and although our relationship was often stormy – we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose during the negotiation process,” de Klerk said in a statement.

Human rights advocate George Bizos told eNCA television that Mandela, a longtime friend, never wavered in his dedication to non-racial and democratic ideals.

“He was larger than life,” Bizos said. “We will not find another like him.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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