Family, foreign leaders first at lying in state

2013-12-11 11:21
Officers salute as the coffin of former president Nelson Mandela is taken to the Union Buildings marking the start of a three-day lying in state in Pretoria. (Marco Longari, AFP)

Officers salute as the coffin of former president Nelson Mandela is taken to the Union Buildings marking the start of a three-day lying in state in Pretoria. (Marco Longari, AFP)

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Pretoria - Nelson Mandela's coffin arrived at the Union Buildings on Wednesday morning after a solemn procession through the streets of Pretoria, with his family and world leaders due to be the first to pay their final respects.

Soldiers and police carried the former president's coffin, draped in the South African flag, to a special mourning area at the hilltop seat of government.

Among the first to arrive was Mandela's grandson, Mandla Mandela, who watched solemnly as security officials raised their hands in salute over the coffin.

Earlier, prison wardens and waving members of the public lined the streets of Pretoria as the funeral cortege slowly moved along a symbolic route through the capital.

The hearse, led by motor cycle outriders, was taken past Pretoria Central Prison where Mandela was held in 1962 for incitement and leaving South Africa illegally.

It also passed the Pretoria High Court, where Mandela stood trial for treason and sabotage and made his now legendary pledge, in April 1964, that he was prepared to die for the ideal of a non-racial society.

This statement was quoted on Tuesday again by US President Barack Obama when he delivered a moving 20 minute eulogy at Mandela's official memorial, hailing the former president as a "giant of history".

Obama's tribute dominated the rain-soaked sometimes boisterous memorial at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, and his decision to shake the hand of Cuban President Raul Castro in a reconciliatory gesture that belies decades of hostility between Havana and Washington has created a diplomatic stir.


Mandela will lie in state for three days, and the procession will be repeated every morning as the military bring his coffin from One Military Hospital to the Union Buildings, where he was sworn in as the country's first democratic president almost 20 years ago.

The procession left the hospital at 07.15 on Wednesday morning and set out along streets closed to traffic.

Hundreds of people broke into song and dance as the cortege passed by, chanting "Tata Mandela".

Johannes Segooa, who watched from behind a security barrier, said he came to bid farewell to a man to whom South Africans owed much.

"His legacy will last forever as Tata has sacrificed a lot for us," said Segooa.

"He has run his race until the finish line."

On Madiba Street, a small group of people formed a guard of honour as helicopters hovered overhead.

Some pedestrians paused before hurrying along to work while others briefly left their office buildings for a glance at the cortege.

Said Olga Mathole from Soshanguve: "We know this is for Mandela, but our employers aren't aware so I must go to work".

Mandela died at his Houghton home on Thursday at the age of 95. Earlier this year, he spent a lengthy spell in hospital in Pretoria while well-wishers kept up a constant vigil outside the clinic gates.

He will be buried in his boyhood village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday.

Friends, colleagues, comrades and family of Nelson Mandela are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at

- Share your memories of Nelson Mandela with us.

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