SA steels itself for day Mandela goes 'home'

2013-03-29 17:01
A man shows two children the bronze statue representing former president Nelson Mandela at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, in Cape Town. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

A man shows two children the bronze statue representing former president Nelson Mandela at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, in Cape Town. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

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Cape Town - Nelson Mandela's latest health scare has left South Africans grappling with the frailty of their national hero and his "Rainbow Nation".

The anti-apartheid icon spent his second day in hospital for a recurring lung infection on Friday.

President Jacob Zuma has said not to panic but also that Mandela is "not that young" and to start preparing for the day he goes "home".

"In Zulu, when someone passes away who is very old, people say he or she has gone home," he told the BBC.

"I think those are some of the things we should be thinking about."

It is Mandela's third hospital stay since December and his second this month.

Accustomed to bouts of ill health

"I didn't expect him to go back so quickly," admitted Cape Town security guard Arthur Davids.

Mandela's release from 27 years of apartheid jail in 1990 signalled the end of decades of white minority domination over the majority black population.

"Because of him, I have the opportunity that I was not previously advantaged with," said Xolani Sibyia in Durban.

"So I would say Mandela we love you, we wish you a speedy recovery. Everything for you Mandela."

But many have also become more accustomed to his bouts of ill health, as the revered statesman lives out his retirement far from the public eye.

Hospitalisations that once put the nation on edge are now acknowledged with sadness but acceptance.

Moral beacon

"I think it is less of a shock because you associate it with age," said Ajith Deena in Cape Town.

The inevitable is dreaded and would be a huge loss for South Africa but had to be accepted, he said.

"That's a natural process of life."

Mandela is still widely adored as a moral beacon in a less-glossy time of South Africa's democracy after its celebratory march into all-race freedom in 1994.

"He's our icon, he's our hero," Leko Msimang said on the streets of Durban.

"In our minds he'll live forever so anything to the contrary, we tend to shut away."

Our president, our god

For Thumeka Mketsu in Cape Town, his death would throw the world into disarray.

Mandela was "our president" and "our god", she said.

"We still admire him as our president."

Theories used to be punted that Mandela was the only glue that held South Africa together and that chaos would follow his death.

Locals still think that there will be aftershocks but also link this to much-dented, modern South Africa.

From furores over the police's use of deadly force to multi-million dollar security upgrade of President Jacob Zuma's private home, frustrations run high.

Quiet, peaceful death

Added to this are rampant joblessness and unfulfilled promises of democracy.

"He is the voice that holds the country together," said Kasturi Pandaram, also in Durban.

"He's been a stalwart and I think if anything should happen to him now, with the state the country is in, I think it's going to fall apart."

Maria, aged 60, who did not want to give her surname, said Mandela should now be left be.

"His life was based on dignity and strength, moral and spiritually, and now let him die the way he lived. Quiet and peacefully," she said in Cape Town.

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