By Shandukani Mulaudzi and Mfuneko Toyana in Qunu, Eastern Cape.
Granting sufficient access to the tens of thousands of people anxious to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela was always going to be a difficult and delicate issue.
In the nine days leading up to momentous funeral on Sunday in the former president’s home town of Qunu, the various official events organised as swan songs to Madiba were criticised loudly and and bitterly across society.
In Johannesburg, some were disappointed that Mandela’s body was not brought to his memorial at FNB Stadium so they say goodbye “in person”. Three days of an open-casket viewing of South Africa’s biggest hero at Union Buildings in Pretoria was not enough. Thousands were turned away from the Pretoria landmark where a mausoleum as built for him to lie-in-state without getting close to the dappled lawns.
In Mthatha, as the day when the hero would disappear forever beneath the earth’s soil steadily approached, a sense of an opportunity to bid Madiba farewell began rapidly slipping away.
This grief-inflected panic was an almost celebratory despondency.
Sipho and the gift of t-shirts
Mandela’s flag-draped casket was scheduled to be flown into Mthatha Airport at exactly 12.45 on Saturday afternoon.
From there it was to be driven through the streets of Mthatha en-route to Qunu for burial the next day, making two stops along the way to allow mourners an opportunity to say goodbye.
Things did not go according to schedule.
From as early 9am people lined the sidewalks of the streets where the convoy would pass, forming a bustling guard of honour.
The longer people waited to see Madiba in the streets of Mthatha one last time, the more restless they became.
There were soon mad rushes for the white t-shirt adorned with Mandela’s smiling face, handed out for free if you could get your hands on them, triggering scuffles and near-stampedes as people fought each other. The thousands of white cotton treasures were just not enough.
“I came here to get a t-shirt,” Siphosonke Lukhozi beamed, rubbing his Mandela t-shirt with pride.
Beneath his arm he carried a cardboard poster of Mandela as he trudged home between train tracks to his Walter Sisulu University (WSU) off-campus dorm.
The fourth-year education student then quickly added that he was also there to see Mandela and say goodbye.
Lukhozi was one of few that did see the casket as it sped past crowds and failed to pause as promised.
As we snaked our way through New Payne “skomplaas”, a combination of township and rural area, Lukhozi went through his pecking order of heroes, with Mandela topping the list.
“People sit at home expecting government to bring work to them,” he said.
Lukhozi said for him education was the new struggle, a lesson he had taken from Mandela, as he led the way into the small room he shares with a fellow WSU student.
“Nothing’s for free mfwethu,” he said, the starch-white t-shirt baring Madiba’s saintly visage contrasting sharply with stained walls of the dorms passage.
By Shandukani Mulaudzi and Mfuneko Toyana , Qunu – Eastern Cape
Tears, song and cheering filled the marquee where the people of Qunu gathered to bid a fond farewell to their late neighbour and former president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Although the mainstream media reported that some members of the Qunu community were disappointed they could not attend the funeral, Wits Vuvuzela found many who contradicted these reports
Hundreds – both young and old – gathered at the Nelson Mandela Museum where they could watch the funeral. Even those who had watched the first part of the programme on their televisions at home headed up the hill to share in the last few moments of the funeral with their fellow community members.
When the procession, led by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), moved towards the burial site some cried while others sat silently and watched.
When the 21 gun salute started the people ran forward to watch the SANDF planes fly over the hills of Qunu. Many raised their fists in a silent salute.
After the screens were turned off the people sat down for a while before heading home.
In Mvezo, where Mandela was born, people were at a public viewing marquee long after the screens were switched off. While children played and dogs ran wild, the elders spoke under the tents and the young men and women leaned against fences chatting.
Diniso Mzikayise was born and raised in Mvezo. He said even though they could not attend the funeral they were happy that the screen was put up so they could share the moment together as a community.
Mzikayise said he did not know of any people who were hurt because they could not go to the funeral. He said if those people did exist, they probably internalised their frustrations.
Mthatha-residents Billy Johnson and Luxolo Ndabeni said they would have happily attended one of the public viewing tents in Qunu fitted with big screens and offering a free lunch after the service.
Unfortunately, Johnson said, they needed to make an urgent delivery that morning, and more importantly, they needed the money.
Ndabeni said he respected Mandela because he had not “abandoned his town like other leaders. But he expressed disappointment that Mthatha residents were not able to attend Mandela’s funeral.
He lamented that only certain could benefit financially from projects intended to develop Mthatha.
“It’s not like in Joburg, here only if you have van then maybe you can make some money. But even then when there are projects only those with connections get the work,” Ndabeni said.
“If you want money but your family aren’t rich and connected …” he added before trailing off.
With the huge tent where the funeral service was being held peering over a slope behind them, Johnson tapped his wrist with two fingers.
“uMandela besimthanda kodwa kufenekile siyenze imali (We loved Mandela but need to make money),” Johnson said.
And off they went.
A message pinned to the fence at the Durban City Hall where mourners gathered to watch the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.
The final scene in the story of a giant’s life took place today in Qunu, Eastern Cape. Ten days of mourning came to a climatic end, as Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in the place of his birth.
Mandela’s casket was transported on the back of a military truck, after days of back and forth movement when lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to be viewed by the public and a further journey to Qunu for the funeral.
Ninety five candles representing each year of Mandela’s life were lit on the stage, “to remember the years he was on earth and more especially the contribution that he made to our country,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, the programme director and ANC deputy president.
Ahmed Kathrada, close friend to Mandela gave an emotional and heartfelt tribute to his friend as he recalled memories of their long friendship. Kathrada ended his speech by bidding farewell to his “elder brother” without whom he did not know which way to turn. Kathrada said Mandela has now left to join the “A-team” of the ANC, including Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and many others.
Friends and family bade an emotional farewell to the first democratic president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.
“He is no more in terms of this life but he is still our leader”
Malawi’s first woman president, Joyce Banda paid tribute to Mandela by saying he paved the way for people like herself to be where they are today. Banda spoke about practicing the lessons taught by Mandela instead of just speaking about them.
“Leadership is about falling in love with the people that you serve and the people falling in love with you. It’s about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put common good ahead of personal interest,” said Banda.
Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete reminded those in attendance and those watching across the world of the lengths and depths countries across the continent took to protect exiled leaders and assist in fighting the oppressive apartheid regime. Kikwete also highlighted that the South Africa’s grief was shared by Tanzania and the rest of the country.
One of the highlights at the service came when former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda took to the podium to speak, or rather ran to the podium to speak. He spoke candidly and honestly about the oppressive masterminds of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He urged South Africans to remain united by way of honouring Mandela’s legacy. “He is no more in terms of this life, but he is still our leader… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” ended Kuanda.
Mourners at the Durban City Hall watched the live feed of the funeral on a big screen. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.
About 4 500 guests were in attendance at the funeral service which played out over two hours starting at eight in the morning. Cyril Ramaphosa read a list including heads of state, former heads of state, traditional leaders, ANC leadership and others to indicate who was allowed to proceed to the burial, only 450 or so guests were allowed to proceed to the gravesite after the service. Those who stayed behind watched on big screens under the marquee where the service took place.
The hope was for Mandela to be laid to rest at exactly 12 noon, when the sun was at its highest and its shadow at its shortest, honouring a traditional belief that people of great stature must be laid to rest at this time. Unfortunately that did not materialise, with the casket only lowered into the ground closer to 1pm. This last moment was a private one for the Mandela family, that was not shown on television. Robala ka khutso Tata.
Professor Adam Habib is pictured with Advocate George Bizos and Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Photo: Wits Communications.
Wits vice chancellor (VC), Professor Adam Habib, said late statesman Nelson Mandela’s experiences at Wits University were similar to those of many black students at the university today.
Habib was speaking to Wits Vuvuzela in an interview before the university held its memorial in honour of Nelson Mandela on Thursday.
“Like many blacks in a white institution, he was alienated and excluded.”
Habib said Mandela’s stay at Wits also “opened his mind”.
George Bizos, Ruth First and Joe Slovo are some friends and comrades in the liberation struggle Mandela met as a Witsie. Habib said Madiba explored his political ideas about freedom and equality while at the institution.
Habib also noted that it was the Wits SRC (student representative council) that initiated the “Free Mandela Campaign” in 1974.
An image of Nelson Mandela is shown at the annual Radio Days conference at Wits University this year. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.
The group were arrested in 1975 and Advocate George Bizos became defended them in court. Habib said the Wits VC George Bozzoli at the time “very supportive” of the SRC.
[pullquote align=”right”]’He believed in economic inclusion, democracy, civil liberties and political participation”[/pullquote]
Mandela enrolled at Wits in 1943 and was the only Black student in the Faculty of Law but failed to complete his degree. He left in 1948 but was conferred an honorary doctorate in law in 1991. He said of his time at Wits: “At Wits I met many people who were to share with me the ups and downs of the liberation struggle, and without whom I could have accomplished very little.”
Madiba continued to have a “powerful” relationship with Wits – not always agreeing with the institution, Habib said.
While he had never known the former president personally, Habib had met him a few times in groups of people.
Cherry-picking memories of Mandela
As an activist himself, Habib was always careful not to “iconise” individuals as struggle heroes instead of recognising liberation to have been the result of a collective effort. “Madiba made it hard,” Habib said, noting his unique presence which earned the name “Madiba Magic”.
While there was an undeniable charm about the statesman, Habib warned against “cherry picking what we choose to remember” about Mandela: “He believed in economic inclusion, democracy, civil liberties and political participation”.
He said some of these ideals, such as economic inclusion, had not been achieved and that the ruling party would do well to recognise this.
As part of remembering Mandela, Habib attended the official memorial service at FNB stadium this week on behalf of Wits University.
“Some things about the day were positive and some parts made me angry,” he said.
He commended the “sophisticated” running of the day and the “strategic” choice of speakers: “It sent the message that we determine our own events.”
Having America and Cuba not only speak at the event but be forced to interact said “We recognise you as a global power [to America] but these are our allies [Cuba, China, Brazil and India]. Having Namibia speak said ‘we prioritise the revolution of the African continent’ as well.”
The aspects of the day that upset the VC were the speaker system and screens not working. “We got it right for the World Cup, why not now? I want the small things to work.”
On members of the audience booing President Jacob Zuma, Habib said it was a clear indication that people are angry and that “things aren’t hunky-dory”.
He also said people would be mistaken to assume that was a sign of what’s to come in the elections next year: “It wasn’t representative of South Africa as a whole. KZN wasn’t there, the Eastern Cape wasn’t there, Mpumalanga wasn’t there. Don’t assume this sends a message. I did think it was the wrong moment for that as well. That was Madiba’s day.”
His was a life magnificently lived
Habib has made honouring Madiba an important part of Wits’ future: “We need to work towards ensuring that no student must go through what he went through while here.” Later in the day, Habib announced that Wits would erect a wall of remembrance as a tribute to Mandela.
“His was a life magnificently lived, a tragic life in many ways as well. If each of us could have half his passion for what we believe in, the world would be a better place.”
Habib hoped current and future Witsies would take this lesson from Madiba with them through their careers. “Excel academically and become a great professional but always remember those outside, on the margins. Think about the impact your actions have on them.
“In its paradoxical way, he personified Wits at its best.”
A picture of Nelson Mandela greeted guests to the Wits University memorial in honour of the late statesman on Thursday night. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana.
Wits University’s memorial service in honour of late former president Nelson Mandela was not a somber affair.
Nor was it bogged down by strict decorum. Instead, the vast and iconic Wits Great Hall auditorium was transformed into an intimate scene where a few of Madiba’s closest comrades sat together and shared fond memories of the great statesman.
Constitutional Court deputy chief justice and Wits chancellor Dikgang Moseneke facilitated what he termed a “fire-side conversation” with Advocate George Bizos, who defended Mandela at the 1959 Rivonia Trial, and liberation stalwart Ahmed Kathadra, a close confidant of Mandela on Robben Island.
Together, they took the 1000-strong audience, gathered inside and outside the Great Hall, on a leisurely stroll down memory lane, effortlessly evoking the mercurial spirit and humour of their former comrade and the nation’s father.
[pullquote align=”right”]”We have failed to live up to Mandela’s egalitarian vision”[/pullquote]
Moseneke, the younger of the three on the stage, told the audience his first encounter with Mandela was under less “illustrious” circumstances than those of Bizos and Kathadra.
Ahmad Kathrada, a contemporary and confidant of Nelson Mandela who spent many years imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. Photo: Wits Communications.
“It was on Robben Island … I used to be a runner for them, delivering newspapers to Mandela and other comrades … I used to cut out all the rubbish like advertisements and then smuggle them in.”
The smile, a somewhat despairing one, in Moseneke’s voice as he conducted proceedings radiated from his words and into the audience, as if the larger than life portrait of a half-smiling Mandela at the entrance of the hall had silently lifted darkness of loss from the hearts of all of those present.
Advocate George Bizos who defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Treason Trials. Photo: Wits Communications.
Bizos and Kathrada took the turns to join in the mock irreverence.
“I met him in 1948 right here,” Bizos chuckled. “He was always [dressed] in a suit and shiny shoes,” said Bizos, wondering out loud where Mandela could have possibly found the money to look so dapper.
Kathrada, in a low voice, told the audience he had met Mandela two years earlier, in 1946, before eventually being imprisoned on Robben Island with him.
The panel, however, did not shy from using Mandela’s passing to assess how far the country had come in its liberation.
“I get upset when people say nothing has changed,” Bizos chided. “Look at the panel here. Look at the student body.” Bizos said that you would not have kind of diversity during apartheid.
Commenting on the current leadership of the country, he lamented: “We have failed to live up to Mandela’s egalitarian vision… We have failed materially in many respects.”
Bringing an end to proceedings, Moseneke echoed Bizos’ disappointment saying the country had a long way to go. The optimistic tone, however, returned.
“There will be many good men to us through these tempestuous times … We are a nation of good people,” Moseneke said.
Watch a video of the memorial provided by Wits Communications: