Wednesday, January 24, 2018

South Africans wait hours to view Mandela's body

PRETORIA, South Africa — Theophalus Riba got up early Wednesday and hurried to participate in something momentous: He stood in line for five hours under the hot sun to see the casket of Nelson Mandela.

The last time Riba had waited in line that long was in 1994, when he was voting for Mandela as president in the nation's first truly open elections.

Mandela's body lay in state Wednesday at the Union Buildings, once a powerful symbol of South Africa's brutal system of apartheid and the site where he was sworn into office 19 years ago as the country's first black leader.

Laid in a casket made partly of glass to show his face, Mandela, who died last week at 95, was dressed in one of his trademark batik "Madiba shirts," in black and gold.

"When I first heard the old man had left us, I was in a terrible state. But now that I've seen his face, I'm very relieved," said Theboho Sephapo, 32, a Defense Department employee. "His face was as beautiful as it was when he was alive.''

Some mourners collapsed with grief as they passed the body and had to be helped away.

Mandla Mandela, the grandson chosen by Mandela to be chief of their clan, stood by the casket. Earlier, he had looked stricken as he followed the coffin as it was carried into the complex's stone amphitheater, which President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday formally named for Nelson Mandela.

Most South Africans got their first view of the flag-draped coffin early Wednesday as it left 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria.

The mood was somber and deeply sad, in contrast to the joyful celebrations of his life in recent days marking Mandela's contribution as a freedom fighter and peacemaker.

The casket was set under a grand mahogany canopy with a roof of translucent fiberglass tiles, where it was to lie for three days. Zuma entered first to view the body, followed by Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, who placed her hands on the casket and gazed at Mandela before walking on, wiping away tears. Other family members followed.

South African and world leaders then filed past, pausing and bowing in front of the coffin. Former President Thabo Mbeki, who was Mandela's deputy and successor, paid tribute as well.

F.W. de Klerk, the man who with Mandela negotiated the transition from white-minority rule and who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him, showed visible emotion as he passed. The men received the award almost 20 years ago to the day, on Dec. 10, 1993.

Officials said there weren't enough buses to shuttle people from three locations. Hundreds waited half a day or more only to be turned away just after 4 p.m. so the body could be returned to the mortuary for the night.

"I felt a very emotional feeling, seeing this great man, a powerful man, a man who stood up for the country, lying down there," said Charlotte Parker, 24, a member of the ruling African National Congress and a provincial government intern. "I shed tears. I felt hurt, because in my mind I was saying I wish I could have seen him alive, at least shaking his hand, not at his last moment."

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