Singing throughout the entire Nelson Mandela memorial service, even during the speeches of prominent guest speakers, was a way of of showing respect to and honouring Mandela.
“We wanted to express ourselves in a respectful way. That’s how it is here in South Africa,” said Siyabulela Phila who was one of the lead singers. Phila said that Mandela was a comrade and whenever it was a comrade’s memorial service, “something like this happened”.
Dorah Nhlapo who was also among the singers said, “Mandela comes from mzabalazo [the struggle]. It was our way of showing him respect.”
Nhlapo said their singing was not an indication of their dissatisfaction with anyone, “as long as it is Nelson Mandela’s memorial, we will keep our dissatisfaction to ourselves.”
Pila said what they didn’t like was “the other heads of states were talking Chinese and we could not hear them. The sound was very poor. We could hear the president talking but we could not hear the translator.”
Stephanie Nunes who was at the memorial said the singing did not bother her, “I’m used to it. It’s my country.”
According to Phila, whenever the sound quality was bad or and “the thing of not always showing who is talking” they sang even more. He said they were unable to hear most of the speakers properly, so they sang: “We only heard Barack Obama, of which it was a great speech.”
Cyril Ramaphosa attempted to get the enthusiastic singers to quieter down but had very little success. There were even media reports saying policemen had been called to bring order to the situation. In the end it was Desmond Tutu who managed to get the relentless singers to keep quiet: “I want to remind you that we got to be at this point because we were disciplined. Now I want to show the world, which has come out here to celebrate the life of an extraordinary icon, we want to say thank you to that world but you must show that world that we are disciplined. So I want to hear a pin drop.”