Georgina Guedes

Outside Mandela's house

2013-12-06 10:53

Georgina Guedes

This morning, I met Cynthia Jele. She was sitting in front of the informal shrine outside Nelson Mandela's Houghton home when I came to pay my respects. As I kneeled down next to her, she opened her arms and we clung to each other, keening.

"We'll be fine," she said to me.

My husband, my mother and I took our children there this morning. I am so glad we did. The cars are lined up for blocks and blocks (honestly, they're getting in the way of people trying to get into the gym!) People are streaming in and out of the area, which is cordoned off with police barriers and police cars.

The police were warm and welcoming, letting people in, acknowledging everyone's right to be there. Even the idiot who got out of his car and complained about how the police were obstructing the road wasn't given a hard time. As I crossed the barricade, I saw a young woman in her car, probably on her way to work, with tears streaming down her cheeks as she watched the crowds go by.

Expressing emotion

I walked the final metres towards the house, the singing drawing me in, vibrating in the air, raising goosebumps on my arms. The rising swell of people's voices, singing praise, calling out his name, stomping their feet.

The people were expressing their emotions with their whole bodies, nothing was held back - and yes, there was sorrow, but there was also so much love and joy. My tears began to fall in earnest.

All around, the colours and sounds of beautiful South Africans, holding aloft a naïve, larger-than-life portrait, a focal point in the chaos. Another portrait was held alongside it - a little girl’s school drawing of our great leader.

Praise singers called to the crowds, the crowd responded with voices and with the rhythmic stomping of their feet. A young white man - Blake - entered the circle and spoke to the crowds in perfect, emotive Zulu. They called to him on all sides to face them and tell them his story.

Sharing grief

People brought their children, they brought flowers to leave behind, they brought cameras to capture the incredible power of shared grief and celebration. We met each other’s gazes, we acknowledged each other and we participated in this incredible outpouring of emotion.

The shrine is off to one side, and I queued behind some other people to take a moment to reflect on my own emotions. And that’s where I met Cynthia.

My husband captured the photo of the two of us from behind. We shared our grief, and we gave comfort to one another. And when she said to me, "We’ll be fine," I think she meant the two of us, but I also think she meant all of us, the whole of South Africa.

And what greater tribute is there, really? "We'll be fine, Tata." Your legacy lives on.

I tweeted this picture, and it was retweeted until Cynthia saw it, and got in touch to introduce herself.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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