11 December 2013
It has been almost a week since Nelson Mandela’s passing. For some South Africans, the reality that their beloved former president is no more finally sank in on Wednesday, when they saw his mortal remains at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Mandela’s body lay in state at the newly renamed Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre, where Madiba was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, from 8am to 5.30pm on Wednesday, under the watchful eyes of the national ceremonial guard of the SA National Defence Force.
People arrived at the Union Buildings in their numbers in the early hours of the morning in order to be among the first to view Mandela’s body, queuing patiently while Mandela’s family, close friends, government ministers and world leaders paid their respects.
The first group of people to file past Mandela’s mortal remains emerged with mixed feelings, ranging from sadness to a deep sense of gratitude.
‘Lying there, saying nothing’
Mirriam Mncube, 68, from Sausville said that although she was sad that her hero had passed, she was also happy that Mandela was finally resting, as he had been sick for a long time.
“I was very sad when I looked at him lying there, saying nothing, and it was difficult for me to accept that it’s the same man who was full of life,” Mncube said. “However, I’m happy I’ve come, because I wouldn’t have peace if I didn’t have this opportunity.
“This is the place where we all came to celebrate his inauguration, and I’m happy that government also chose this place and gave us an opportunity to say our goodbyes,” Mncube said.
Portia Qubeka from Orlando West and her friend, Kuki Kgaphola, from Hillbrow in Johannesburg, said they struggled to sleep on Tuesday night after watching the official memorial service for Mandela.
Speaking to SAnews at the Pretoria Show Grounds after returning by bus from the Union Buildings, Qubeka said: “We were watching the memorial service on TV and just told ourselves that we are going to Pretoria tomorrow. That was the best decision we’ve made and we are happy after seeing him.
‘I was tempted to touch the coffin’
“It looked like he was going to wake up and smile at us,” Qubeka added. “I was even tempted to touch the coffin, but the police wouldn’t have allowed it.
“After seeing him, the mood inside the bus changed,” Qubeka continued. “It was so quiet, and no one spoke until we arrived back here. On our way to the Union Buildings, we were all singing and celebrating his life, but now we are convinced that he is gone and we can find peace.”
Johannes Moabolo from Atteridgeville said he was not looking forward to Sunday, the day of Mandela’s funeral in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
“I’m so sad and miss him already,” said Moabolo, fighting back tears. “It’s going to take some time to get used to life without Madiba, but I’m happy I was fortunate to see him for the last time.
“What I’ll miss the most is his beautiful smile and his dance,” Moabolo added. “He was really a God-send, and South Africa was blessed to have him.”
Procession, viewing on Thursday and Friday
Members of the public will be able to view Mandela’s body from 8am to 5.30pm on Thursday and Friday. His body will be transported in procession from 1 Military Hospital to the Union Buildings each day, and members of the public have been urged to line the route to form a public guard of honour for Mandela.
The procession will leave 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane at 7am on Thursday and Friday, travelling on Old Pretoria Road towards the city, then joining Kgosi Mampuru Road until its intersection with Madiba Street, then proceeding east along Madiba Street towards the Union Buildings.
For people wishing to get to the Union Buildings, the City of Tshwane has made park-and-ride facilities available at the Tshwane Events Centre, the LC De Villiers Sports Facility in Hatfield, and the Fountains Valley Park.
Members of the public are urged to make use of these services, as access to the Union Buildings to view Mandela’s body will be restricted to people arriving in city buses only.
Street vendors have been advised that no trading will be allowed on the roads designated for Mandela’s cortege over the next three days. Shop owners along these routes are also advised to temporarily close shop, given the large number of people expected to line the streets.