Down Vilakazi street with the sons and daughters of Mandela


In living colour: A portrait of late president Nelson Mandela on a side-walk inVilakazi street, Soweto, Johannesburg.                                                                                                  Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

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.”


Teach One: Letlhogonolo Mogapi and Thutelo Refilwe came from Pretoria to say goodbye to Mandela.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

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.

Witsies over the edge

Wits, according to its branding slogan, “gives you the edge”. Some Witsies, however, have toppled over the edge and found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The now-infamous dreadlocked drug smuggler, Nolubabalo Nobanda, made headlines in December 2012 attempting to smuggle 1,5kg of cocaine into Thailand, by hiding the drug in her hair.

Nobanda was a Wits student although the university initially denied this. It later acknowledged Nobanda was registered in 2007, adding that confusion arose from Nobanda not re-registering the following year.

Nobanda was allegedly going to be paid R16 000 to smuggle the R2 million’s worth of drugs into Thailand. She was caught by customs officials at the Thai airport who noticed the white powder in her hair.

In recent years Wits itself has been the scene of the crime when frustration with staff gave former students a different edge.

In 2001, the stress of opening night proved too much for doctoral drama student Sikhumbuzo Yani who shot Prof Malcolm Purkey.

Yani allegedly drew the gun only to scare Purkey. But as Purkey fled, Yani shot him in the leg. Yani claimed the shot was fired after he was jostled by someone else.

Yani pleaded guilty in court to a charge of attempted murder and was sentenced to three years house arrest. He was also required to attend an anger management course.

In 2003 Glenda Lane, Wits’ assistant registrar of students at the time, fell foul of disgruntled student Thapelo Moselenyane.

Moselenyane held Lane hostage for six hours after he was not granted an emergency loan.

Lane was only released when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who he had demanded to see, came to Wits and unlocked the office herself.

In court, Moselenyane admitted to everything but denied he was guilty. A panel of psychiatrists who evaluated Moselenyane found he did not know the difference between right and wrong and could thus not be held responsible for his actions.

The court ruled that Moselenyane was not guilty due to his mental problems and ordered that he should receive treatment from Sterkfontein hospital.