A final farewell: my moment at the Union Buildings

By Kirstin Buick
13 December 2013

YOU’s Jessica Levitt says a final farewell to Tata at the Union Buildings

Today was the last day that Nelson Mandela’s remains would be taken to the Union Buildings in Pretoria for public viewing. For the past two days, South Africans have heard stories about how people lined up for hours and hours, only to get turned away at the last minute.

Having gone to Madiba’s Houghton home several times and attending a tribute service with Archbishop Desmond Tutu , you’d think that I’ve had my chance to say farewell to the father of our nation. Yet I still felt that there was some closure that was needed.

So, after hearing the stories of people arriving at 6am and getting turned back, I thought getting to Pretoria just after 4am would allow me more than sufficient time to make the cut. Not so. At 4am, traffic to Pretoria was busy. Cars lined the roads and thousands of people who had spent the night camped in their cars had already been awake for hours.

photo 2 "Police officials immediately suggested that instead of viewing Mandela in state, I turn around a join a guard of honour for the official precession of our former president."

Police officials immediately suggested that instead of viewing Mandela in state, I turn around a join a guard of honour for the official precession of our former president. I didn’t hesitate. I got my spot right in front and awaited my opportunity to say a final farewell.

Thousands of people soon began to line the streets. Lead SA had called on South Africans to go to Pretoria to give Tata the goodbye he so deserved. And they did. Soon enough, South African flags were flying high in the air, posters with Madiba’s face were being handed out and soft, mournful songs were being sung. Around two hours later, helicopters flew over us and we knew the time was near.

Thousands of people soon began to line the streets. Thousands of people soon began to line the streets.

Police cars, followed by a cavalcade of bikes came past. And then the black van with Madiba’s coffin and a South African flag arrived. It wasn’t slow. It wasn’t fast. It was just enough to catch a glimpse, take in the moment and give a private thank you and goodbye. And even after the car disappeared from sight, many were reluctant to leave their spot – almost unwilling to acknowledge that, yes, day three had come and gone and now our beloved Tata would go to his home town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

A woman next to me started crying. Another man was singing. A child in front of me was quiet – almost not believing what had just happened. Slowly, after about half an hour, the crowds started disappearing, many promising to come back later today as Madiba’s hearse would drive past again, for the final time.

For me, I got my final moment. Farewell, Tata.

- Jessica Levitt

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