Sipho Masombuka, Olebogeng Molatlhwa and Graeme Hosken
AS mourners flocked from every corner of South Africa to see Nelson Mandela’s body one last time, the women in his life were touched the deepest.
Madiba’s nearest and dearest were the first to see his body at the Union Buildings in Pretoria yesterday, where the former president will be lying in state until tomorrow.
Some, like his daughters Zenani and Zindzi Mandela and his assistant of 18 years, Zelda la Grange, wept openly beside the coffin. Others, like his widow Graca Machel and ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, appeared to carry a profound sadness.
Her head bowed, Machel walked a few paces behind President Jacob Zuma after pausing at Madiba’s coffin in the amphitheatre which is to be named after the former president.
The mood at the private viewing of the body was sombre as family members, mostly clad in black, walked slowly towards the area where the coffin rested.
Machel was followed by Madikizela- Mandela and her daughters. The moment proved emotionally overwhelming for Zenani and Zindzi; the sisters frequently wiped tears from their eyes, even before they had seen their father’s coffin. And once they saw him, the tears continued to flow as they were ushered away.
The occasion also got the better of La Grange, who walked hand in hand with Irish rock star Bono of U2 and his wife, Ali Hewson.
La Grange wiped away tears as she walked up to Mandela’s coffin. The former PA stood briefly alongside the coffin, again wiping away tears.
Besides the family, local politicians and foreign leaders were among those who paid their respects before the public got their turn.
The former statesman was dressed in one of his trademark batik shirts. Through a glass casing, visitors could see the brown-and-yellow shirt and his face. His lower body was covered.
Four guards with heads bowed guarded each corner of the coffin as mourners passed by.
Mandela “looked as handsome as ever and at peace”, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele said.
He felt a change as he approached Mandela’s body. “It suddenly dawned on me that he was really gone. I bowed over him and said ‘thank you, Tata, for everything’.” Cwele said Mandela’s family was given a chance to perform traditional rituals in accordance with Xhosa culture in private.
Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk paid their last respects to Mandela too, as did several heads of state including former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, frail and walking with the aid of a stick. First in the public queue to see the coffin was Kholofelo Madiba and her sister. “We made it. We are here. We are here to say thank you, give praise, to laugh, sing, dance and say goodbye.”
Behind her the queue stretched nearly two kilometres long.
“Today is the first day I stopped crying. Today I will no longer cry. I will be celebrating life,” she said, as the nearly 4000-strong crowd sang Mandela’s praises.
As the day unfolded, the line of people queueing was reminiscent of those seen during the 1994 elections.
Among those who travelled from far were ANC MP Cedrick Frolic from Nelson Mandela Bay, who described his experience as “emotional”.
“At the memorial service the mood in the buses to the stadium was exciting, but [yesterday] it was sombre because reality was setting in.
“As we approached the Union Buildings, you could see you were entering a space of greatness. As we stood in the long queues, prominent and ordinary people, we were all equal,” Frolic said.
“Ministers were shattered and in tears, and as my son and I approached the coffin I got goose bumps. Even his corpse imposes greatness and you could see here lies a true leader.”
Bay speaker Maria Hermans flew to Johannesburg yesterday to see Madiba’s body. “I couldn’t help it. I just had to cry. The sight of Mandla [Mandela] looking at the body of his beloved grandfather and all those people who came to see him was heartbreaking,” Hermans said.
“As I got closer to seeing Madiba’s face I was overwhelmed. That feeling that says, ‘here he is, Mandela, Tata, my leader. In a coffin’. You cannot help but shed a tear.
“I was at his inauguration in 1994. At the same place he stood and took his oath he now lies in a coffin.
“Seeing a little girl walking up and carrying white and yellow flowers to him was so emotional.”
Bay businesswoman Glenda Perumal drove to Pretoria with her husband and son yesterday to see Mandela for the last time. They will view his body today.
“Madiba played such an important role in our lives and this opportunity to pay tribute to the great man and his family will never come again,” Perumal said. “What is sacrificing nine or 10 hours of driving compared to the 27 years he spent in jail?”
Mandela’s body was transported to the Union Buildings from 1 Military Hospital early yesterday. SANDF special forces, as part of a multi-disciplinary security team, occupied strategic positions on the roofs of buildings overlooking the route.
Escorted from the hospital by 16 military police officers on motorbikes, Madiba’s black glass framed hearse drove slowly through Pretoria as an air force Oryx helicopter flew overhead. – Additional reporting by Nwabisa Makunga, Rochelle de Kock, Katharine Child, Aarti J Narsee and Sapa-DPA