The great leader at peace

2013-12-12 00:00

IT is unmistakably Nelson Rolihlala Mandela lying in the coffin — dressed in his famous black-and-gold Madiba shirt.

Only the top half of his body is visible under the transparent dome that has been placed over the dark wood coffin.

Madiba looks as if he is sleeping and not like someone who has been suffering a long illness.

While each person’s walk past the coffin lasts only a few seconds, it seemed to be an emotional experience for every one of the thousands of people who yesterday viewed the coffin at the amphitheatre outside the Union Buildings.

In sharp contrast to the almost festive atmosphere that reigned when he was sworn in as South Africa’s first black president at the same amphitheatre on May 10, 1994, a sombre and reverential atmosphere prevailed.

Madiba’s body will lie in state today and tomorrow.

Four ceremonial guards from the navy are guarding the coffin and the police are enforcing a no photographs rule, as requested by the family.

President Jacob Zuma was among several dignitaries who yesterday morning walked passed the coffin in the west wing of the Union Buildings.

With her head bowed, Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, walked a few steps behind President Jacob Zuma after pausing at her husband’s coffin, resting on a platform in the amphitheatre outside the seat of government.

She was followed by his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and her daughters, before former presidents Thabo Mbeki and F.W. de Klerk paid their respects.

Machel touched the coffin while Madikizela-Mandela cried quietly.

De Klerk’s wife, Elita, dabbed away tears, as did Mandela’s personal assistant of 18 years, Zelda la Grange, who clutched the hand of U2 singer Bono as she made her way to the casket.

Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda was the first of a contingent of African dignitaries to pay their final respects to Mandela.

They included Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf Johnson.

Grandson Mandla Mandela sat next to the coffin all day yesterday, as a continuous queue of South Africans filed past in two rows to show their last respects. They ranged from old to young, rich and poor.

Among them were police officers, soldiers and emergency personnel, who saluted the coffin as they passed.

Madiba will be buried in his homevillage of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, on Sunday.

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