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.