December 09, 2013
People from across South Africa and beyond are making long journeys to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela, following his death last week. The Johannesburg home of the former president and anti-apartheid leader has become a pilgrimage site in a national outpouring of emotion.
They come to mourn, to lay flowers and light candles; but also to sing, dance and celebrate the life of the man who transformed their nation.
Sibongi Lenobo came by bus from Kwazulu-Natal province on the south coast.
“Me come see Mandela’s house," she said. "Me happy for Mandela, make everything nice.”
Tlha Tlogo and her three sisters had a long road journey, 450 kilometers, across South Africa to get here.
“We come from Pampierstad. It’s a small township in the Northern Cape; it’s about six hours from here," she said. "And we came here just to show our respect to Tata. He’s our father, he’s our grandfather, he’s our first black president. And this is one of the moments in history.”
Tlha and her siblings thought the trip was well worth it and having grieved, they are ready to celebrate.
He was with us for a very long time. Look at the atmosphere right now, it's it's feeling good, it's feeling ok…We are sad, but we are rejoicing as well," she said. "For his life was a blessing and how can you be sad for a blessing?"
The mood here is changing from one of sadness at a nation’s loss to celebration of a life that gave so much to the world.
More and more people are arriving at Nelson Mandela’s former home in the district of Houghton. Among them, his grandson Mandla Mandela, who led a procession through the neighborhood Monday.
As the celebrations of his life grow louder here, across town in Sandton, Nelson Mandela Square has become a quieter place of pilgrimage.
Visitors write tributes to the man who many South Africans say felt like a member of their own family.
Zanele Mbokazi and her son travelled here by taxi from Durban - a journey of nearly 600 kilometers.
“I wanted to come here and pay tribute to Tata Madiba, and for what he did for us," she said. "We are a free country today. We knew that he was old but then his passing just touches everyone.”
For some, a holiday to South Africa has turned into a chance to mourn for a beloved leader.
Bishop Richard K. Thompson, who works with a Methodist church organization in Washington, D.C., was in Johannesburg when Mandela died Thursday.
"What I'm feeling is that we knew this day was coming because he was 95 years old," he said. "But you never really prepared for it….To see the overflowing love that the people in the country have shown for his leadership, it’s just been an overwhelming experience."
Thompson and his group snapped photos in front of the Mandela statue in Nelson Mandela Square. They were planning to go to FNB Stadium for the memorial ceremony Tuesday, despite being discouraged to do so because of transportation issues.
Thompson, who is African-American, said Mandela was held in high regard in the black community in the United States.
"For us, he has been a champion when it comes to civil rights," he said. "He quotes Martin Luther King, he quotes people who are so dear to our hearts."
Richard Hallward was visiting South Africa from his home in Poland when Mandela’s death was announced.
“Heard the news and first thing we did was come here to Mandela Square, saw the flowers," he said. "It’s important, not just for South Africa but for the world.”
Across South Africa, in the significant places of his extraordinary life, the tributes continue to pile up as the world says goodbye to Nelson Mandela.