Long lines as public gets Mandela closure

Last updated 06:19 12/12/2013

Thousands of mourners wait patiently for their chance to farewell former anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. Mana Rabiee reports.

Nelson Mandela memorial
Reuters Zoom
Thousands of South Africans wait in line to pay respects to Nelson Mandela's body in Pretoria.

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For the last five days Martha has cried every time she saw a picture of Nelson Mandela.

After viewing the body of her anti-apartheid hero today, the 94-year-old said there would be no more tears.

She left her leaking tin shack home, in Pretoria, early in the morning and spent much of the day waiting in line in the baking sun, and on buses.

Only once world leaders, and pop singer Bono, had filed through to pay their respects, were ordinary South Africans allowed through.

"My heart must stay level," Martha said, wrapped in an ANC flag. "There's happiness now [I've seen him]. No more crying. We must live together in harmony now, black and white together."

Mandela's coffin lay at the Union Buildings, the government offices. He gave his inaugural presidential address from the amphitheatre, which now bears his name, in 1994.

Early in the morning his body was escorted there by a police motor cycle cavalcade. The streets were lined with people watching the procession, dancing, ululating and singing political anthems from the struggle against apartheid.

Traffic coming into the capital was at a standstill for most of the morning. The same cortege will take place every morning until Friday.

Thousands waited patiently all day in snaking lines on the streets and lawns surrounding the hill on which Union Buildings sits. They were bused in convoys up to the marquee where Mandela's remains were laid out. His half-open coffin was draped in white cloth and he was dressed in a black and gold Madiba shirt.

Jenny Letsholo, 63, queued from 7.45am to pay her last respects for just a few seconds. Afterwards, placing her hand on her heart, she said it was "very sad." "I just say that now that Madiba rests."

Near the back of the queue, Clement Mareme, had been standing in line for more than two hours. 'I'll sleep here," he said."He means everything, he means democracy, he means the world."

Sitting on grass under the shade of the tree, Caroline Gwazube and Thandi Sidinile had got someone to stand in the queue on their behalf. By late afternoon they had been waiting for more than seven hours.

"We're tired," Gwazube explained. "But it's very important to us to pay our last respects to Tata. He love us. He has done more for us than anyone."

Nearby, Jessica Ntumba, 14, was playing with her five year old sister Grace, and brother, Salem Semanja, 13.

"I feel so bad, I almost cried," she said of Mandela's death. "Without him I wouldn't be in school with white people."

Hawkers were doing a roaring trade in merchandise bearing Mandela's face, and ice-creams, as the lines got longer and longer. Resourceful families had brought food and were picnicking on the lawns.

Shereez Burds, 20, stood in line with Jo-Ann Kok, 21, and Curtley Nell, seven. After two hours, her patience had not diminished.

"It's important because of everything he did for us."

As she passed by Mandela's body she planned to remember the 27 years he spent in prison.

"I'm a little bit sad."

Sylvester Ngoepe and Thalita Kgaphola, from Pretoria, painted their faces with images of Mandela. "I want to celebrate a life well lived, but I'm sad for losing such a great man," Ngoepe said.

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- Fairfax Media

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