WITH GALLERY: Access an issue for Madiba’s funeral

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.

OPINION: First hello, final goodbye

Shandukani Mulaudzi writes of the day she finally saw Nelson Mandela – as his body lay in state in Pretoria, South Africa. 

ShanduAs a child I had always wanted to meet Nelson Mandela. I heard about him shaking children’s hands and smiling at them. Some of my classmates had been fortunate enough to meet him and I too longed for the moment where his hand would meet mine and I would be able to brag that I had met a real life hero.

In 1997 we moved to Arcadia and the Union Buildings were right up the road. I assumed Mandela lived there and imagined that one day I would see him driving out and he would at least wave at me. It didn’t happen, he left the presidency and I grew up. I became “too cool for school” and became satisfied with admiring his greatness from afar.

[pullquote align=”right”]”It’s over. Mandela is really gone”[/pullquote]

I finally saw him today and not in the way that I had once hoped for. His smile was wiped off his face and he couldn’t hold my hand nor could I hold his. The colour had been drained off his face and he looked more grey than brown. His face looked like clay. I was sad and what hurt the most was that I couldn’t even see his face fully because I am a little bit too short. I saw enough though. He looked peaceful and that comforted me.

As I walked away from the casket I saw officials on the other side holding out tissues for those who were crying. I did not cry – well at least not immediately.

[pullquote align=”left”]”You left us in the dark. We are powerless.” [/pullquote]

I went down the stairs from the amphitheatre in search of someone who would tell me how they felt about seeing his body lying there. I wanted to know how it felt for them to know that he had breathed his last breath and would no longer be able to share the wisdom and teachings he was known for.

As I walked I overheard a man say: “Ja ne! Go fedile. O tsamaile ka nnete Mandela” (It’s over. Mandela is really gone).

That was when the finality of it all dawned on me. I watched other journalists scramble to speak to people and ask them questions. I had never seen a corpse before this and I needed a moment. Just as I was about to go find a corner where I could bury my face in my dress a man approached me asking for something.

DSC_1081

Joseph Tekela travelled from Qwa-Qwa to bid Mandela a final farewell. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi.

He was holding his crutch in one hand and an envelope in the other. His ANC shirt sparked my interest and I decided to ask him how he was feeling. He told me that for the first time in his life he saw a corpse and cried.

He told me his name is Joseph Tekela and he is the chairman of the Disability Forum in Qwa-Qwa. He and his colleagues travelled to Johannesburg on September 4 this year to pray for Mandela and wish him well. They had hoped he would get better because they still needed him.

Tekela read his card to me. Some of the words were:

“We thought he would fight for us for the implementation of a two-percent of disability employment. We thought he would fight for us for being included for RDP beneficiary for disability in Qwa-Qwa. Your death crushes our hopes of getting what we deserve. You left us in the dark. We are powerless.”

I left the Union Buildings after speaking to Tekela.  His story broke my heart and it was then that I thanked the Lord for my sunglasses which hid the tears that were now welling up in my eyes.

I overcame my fear of seeing a dead body to pay my final respects to a man who gave his life to a cause he so strongly believed in. Tata Rolihlahla Mandela was a beacon of hope for all and even though he had not been involved in politics for years many still saw him as the man who would save them from the injustices they still face in our country.

Today I saw him for the first time and I said goodbye to him too.  The moment was brief and perhaps a little traumatic but it was well worth it.

R.I.P. Nelson Mandela.