Nelson Mandela’s former home on the famous Vilakazi street in Orlando West, Soweto, was a powerful magnet today, attracting hundreds of people hoping to celebrate the life of the former president and pay their respects to the late icon.
Although entry into the pristine red-brick house, now a museum, was temporarily barred, many people milled around its gates taking pictures, signing messages on a large portrait of Mandela hanging from the fence. Visitors also laid flowers and lit candles at a steadily growing memorial under a sign reading “Goodbye Tata.”
ANC Mkonto weSizwe Miltary Veteran’s Association (ANCMKMVA) member Oupa Mabe, who first met Mandela on Robben Island in 1987, described the atmosphere as “ambivalent” while struggle songs rose up from the streets outside Mandela’s former home.
“People are having mixed feelings about this … Others are sad and others want to celebrate. If you say we should be sad then you are trying to undermine the contribution of a legend, what he has left for us a unifier and as a great leader.”
Mabe, dutifully signing coordinating the signings of the large portrait-print of Mandela and handing out markers to children eager to pen goodbye messages to the late president, recalled that the first thing Mandela said to him on the first day of his 28-year sentence: “Young man go and learn. Go and educate yourself so that one day you can lead.”
Former press secretary for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Rose Nkosi, echoed Mabe’s sentiments as she haggled with a vendor over the price for a book of portraits of Nelson Mandela.
“I am disturbed as our father has passed away.” Nkosi said despite this sadness that we were feeling, Mandela’s passing was an opportunity to renew faith in the principles, especially education, which he lived for.
Rubbing a hand over Mandela’s face on the cover of her newly purchased book, Nkosi said the written word and pictures provided a powerful tool for teaching future generations about the man and his “dedication to education”.
Letlogonolo Mogapi, a Unisa student from Pretoria, dedicated her pursuit of an engineering degree to Nelson Mandela.
“If it was not for Mandela we would not even be in school right now… [pullquote]Ga ne re gola, if you were black, it was either you studied nursing or you were a teacher.[/pullquote] You would never find an engineer back then. He was not struggling for freedom [alone] he fought for education and we thank him for that.”
Even as the rain clouds gathered and threatened to unleash another violent Highveld storm, the singing and dancing in celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela continued on Vilakazi street.