Seeing Mandela for the first and last time

By Drum Digital
12 December 2013

In the moments leading up to seeing Madiba lying in his coffin, I witnessed some people ahead of me breaking down overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of his body.

The first time I saw a body I was 12. I remember throughout the funeral (an Aunt’s) anticipating with some excitement the moment the body could be viewed. I was haunted by the sight forever and although I have since seen a number of bodies, including those of my parents my reaction was different every time. In the moments leading up to seeing Madiba lying in his coffin, I witnessed some people ahead of me breaking down and some old people having to be carried out because they were so overcome with emotion at the sight of his body.  I wondered what my reaction would be. Would I be able to control myself?  Who would carry me should I break down and soothe me until I was good to go again? The moment came faster than I thought it wouldand I was fine. He looked peaceful and spiffy in his trademark ‘Madiba shirt’. It was the Mandela we all know and loved.  The man whose legacy, as most people after the viewing said, we should carry on . . .

Waiting to see him

It was like 1994 all over again. Thousands of people lined up in queues that snaked around the Pretoria City Centre and Union Buildings.

I was ten years old in 1994and my recollection of Mandela’s inauguration was mostly from television and newspaper articles. This time we queued up for a different reason – to pay our last respects to the man who became South Africa’s first democratically elected president back in ’94. Different South Africans needed a last viewing of him for different reasons: to accept that he was finally gone, for closure or to ‘meet’ with him one last time.  For the thousands of people lining up on Pretoria’s streets, the chance to catch one last glimpse of Tata Madiba is one they wouldn’t have given up for anything. The privilege of seeing him and the desire to be part of history were the most common reasons people wanted to see him before he was buried. For me it was another day’s workand  I had made my peace with his passing and was doing a job. But as I weaved my way amongst the throngs of people and heard the different ways that the man had touched them I felt the magnitude of what was about to happen.

-         Sthembile Gasa

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