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South Africans bid farewell to Nelson Mandela

Thousands of South Africans lined up Wednesday to file past the body of Nelson Mandela, which lay in state flanked by two guards in a federal government district still dotted with monuments to the history of white rule.

Daisy Maenetja, 27, a nurse, waited for five hours for a glimpse of the late South African leader, his torso clad in a shirt with black and gold patterns visible through a glass pane atop the casket. Then, when she stepped past the covered viewing stand on the semicircular courtyard of the government headquarters known as the Union Buildings, she slumped to the ground.

“I was just overwhelmed by seeing him,” she said later. “I just went blank, and I collapsed.” She said she wondered whether it was really Mandela because his face seemed larger and a bit puffy.

“I just hope his fight for freedom and peace and forgiveness lives on and doesn’t die with him,” she said.

One day after world leaders gathered at a stadium in Soweto for a televised memorial to Mandela, ordinary South Africans had the chance for a more intimate and personal moment with the anti-apartheid icon. And they came from all over the region, some dressed in formal mourning clothes, some draped in the South African flag or the colors of the African National Congress party, but most dressed casually or in a colorful variety of ANC T-shirts. Many of those who filed past were military and police officers. Earlier, various dignitaries visited.

The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan shares scenes from the memorial for former South African president Nelson Mandela in the late activist's home country. (Sudarsan Raghavan/The Washington Post)

The symbolism of Mandela lying in state at thelight sandstone Union Buildings was strong. Although Cape Town is where Parliament sits, Pretoria is the administrative seat of government, which once meant the grinding bureaucracy of apartheid. The broad lawn in front of the headquarters has a statue marking the pioneering events in the white Afrikaner settlement of the country. But on May 10, 1994, it was the site of Mandela’s inauguration as the nation’s first black president. His body will lie in state here through Friday, overseen by white-uniformed guards.

Late in the morning, Edith Ndlovu, dressed in black and sporting an ANC button, stood at the foot of the Union Buildings to sign a condolence book.

“Madiba,” she wrote, using Mandela’s clan name, “to me you were a father not just an icon. Thank you very much for the liberation. You will be remembered forever. Rest in peace.”

Ndlovu, who, like Mandela, is from a traditional royal family, said that she went to a Nov. 5 meeting of traditional leaders hoping that Mandela might be there but that he was too ill. “My wish was to see him and touch his hand,” she said.

Ndlovu, a Christian pastor and ANC video coordinator, said, “We as South Africans must maintain the democracy Mandela strived for all these years.”

She also put in a good word for the ANC, which Mandela led for so long but whose leader, President Jacob Zuma, was booed at the Soweto stadium Tuesday.

“No government in the world has built free houses for the poor, given free water to the poor,” she said. “And still people say they can’t see what the ANC is doing for us. There are people who don’t see the good and take binoculars to search for the bad.”

Three high-spirited young women who work in Pretoria’s Ster-Kinekor cinema, where a new Mandela movie just opened, showed up at 7 a.m., early enough to glimpse the casket as it was driven here from a military hospital.

“Before Mandela, your future was predetermined for you,” said Nthabiseng Gladness Manyako, 28. “Now you can try things, whatever comes into your head.” She said barriers between blacks and whites have fallen.

“Now we eat together,” said her friend, Maureen Baloyi.

“Shop together,” Manyako giggled. “Chat together.”

At 8 a.m., shortly after the cinema friends arrived, a group called the Soweto Spiritual Singers, the members wearing black T-shirts bearing Mandela’s image, set out by bus from Vilakazi Street, where Mandela had lived before he was imprisoned in 1962 by the apartheid government. At 10:30 a.m., the group sang and marched along Government Avenue in front of the Union Buildings. On Tuesday, the group had sung in the Dlamini section of Soweto before 600 people at a community hall.

At 8:30 in the morning, a school teacher named Sydney Shabangu, 53, and his friend Dorah Masemola, a 52-year-old social worker, started walking from the nearby township of Mamelodi for the viewing. It took them two hours to arrive.

“We’ve come to celebrate the legacy of our late father,” Masemola said, “and say goodbye and thank you for what you’ve done for us, for uniting South Africa as one nation. And to thank him for giving his life for us, for dying for us.”

“He’s a saint,” Shabangu said. “He came out of prison not a bitter man, which we expected him to be.”

Shabangu, who teaches history, said what is taught in high school has changed completely since Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and the end of apartheid. “History must not repeat itself,” he said.

Steven Mufson covers the White House. Since joining The Post, he has covered economics, China, foreign policy and energy.



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