12 December 2013
The life of Nelson Mandela was celebrated with dignity, joy and tears by tens of thousands of South Africans at the Cape Town stadium in Green Point on Wednesday night.
In a spirit of remembrance and celebration, formalities were set aside as artists and the city’s leaders paid tribute to Mandela, who passed away last Thursday at the age of 95.
“Nelson Mandela: A Life Celebrated” was a free event organised as part of the City of Cape Town’s commemorative programme. The city laid on free public transport, making it possible for people from all corners of the city to come together to remember Mandela.
The mood of the crowd was one of joyful togetherness as they stood side by side to mourn the man who set them free. “The Mandela Magic at work one last time – his Cape Town farewell last night,” said author Tim Butcher, who attended the event with his family.
Helen Zille, the leader of the Democratic Alliance and the premier of the Western Cape, sang praise songs about Madiba in isiXhosa. She told of how she had just returned from the state ceremony for Mandela in Pretoria, where the former president’s body has been lying in state.
She said his face was at peace, “a face that must symbolise both in its physical features and its spiritual features everything that we must become as nation”. She said Mandela’s familiar smile “must have masked such a deep pain over a vast number of years, when he sacrificed to bring us freedom and to bring us a constitution that defends us today”.
Zille said she had flown in from Pretoria over Robben Island, seeing Cape Town as Mandela must have seen it. “It was a powerful sight.”
Johnny Clegg paid a heartfelt tribute to Mandela with Asimbonanga, a song he wrote in the dark days of apartheid. The crowd, on its feet, sang and cried along with him.
Justice and dignity
“The spirit of the New South Africa may have had its origins in Madiba but it lives in all of us,” Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said. “And because of that, we cannot let that spirit die with him. He showed us what reconciliation meant; he showed us what we needed to become.
“In mourning him, we celebrate his values of justice, dignity, respect, human rights and reconciliation,” she said. “In our celebration of them, these values live and thrive once more.”
The Bala Brothers also brought the crowd to their feet – where they remained for the rest of the night – with their rousing rendition of Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata. Paying tribute to the country that determinedly breaks stereotypes, they sang in Afrikaans.
National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel said it had been a long walk to freedom for South Africa, but that “the journey was not over yet”.
Singer and Aids activist Annie Lennox, who is also an ambassador for the charity 46664, used her bongo drum to convey a powerful message to “stop the violence”. Banging out slam poetry, she got the crowd chanting about safe sex and getting tested.
Also paying tribute was rugby player Francois Pienaar, former captain of the Springboks, who described Mandela as “our spiritual coach and our captain”. Recalling the World Cup in 1999 when he led Springboks to team victory, Pienaar said, “For the first time ever, we were all champions together. I will never forget how proud Madiba was, and his beautiful smile.”
Marius Fransman, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation and the chair of the ANC in the Western Cape, said Mandela was the country’s role model: “We all ask what we want our children to be like. We want them to be like Madiba.”
The event was well organised, with the city relying on many of the procedures it used when it successfully hosted the 2010 World Cup. The “fan walk” from the station through the city centre to the stadium was renamed the “remembrance walk”.
“Madiba’s Cape Town celebration has got to be one of the highlights of my life,” said photographer Jackie Murray. “Never before have I experienced such intense, unified joy, sorrow and elation as this. We sang, we danced, we cried, we screamed our hearts out. Lucky the stadium doesn’t have a roof, because we would have blasted it right off up into our beautiful African skies!”
A few thousand people also gathered at the Grand Parade, where the event was broadcast on big screens.