Flags were lowered to half-staff and people in black townships, in upscale mostly white suburbs and in South Africa’s vast rural grasslands commemorated former South African president Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers yesterday while pledging to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
South African President Jacob Zuma announced that Mandela will be laid to rest at his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Dec. 15.
A week of national mourning would include an open-air memorial service on Tuesday at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, Zuma said.
Meanwhile, Mandela worked his magic once more yesterday, uniting friends and foes alike in a global outpouring of grief as they mourned the death of the anti-apartheid icon. Palestinians and Israelis, Beijing and the Dalai Lama, Washington and Tehran all joined together to remember a man whose message of equality inspired millions across the globe.
Foreign dignitaries as well as celebrities, sports figures and religious leaders lined up to issue solemn tributes to the 95-year-old peace hero who became South Africa’s first democratic president.
In a rare homage, flags flew at half mast in several countries, including the US, France, Britain, Nigeria and India, which declared five days of national mourning for the man hailed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “true Gandhian.”
Hours after Mandela’s death on Thursday night, a black SUV-type vehicle containing his coffin, draped in South Africa’s flag, pulled away from his home after midnight, escorted by military motorcycle outriders, to take the body to a military morgue in Pretoria, the capital.
Many South Africans heard the news, which was announced on state TV by Zuma wearing mourning black just before midnight, upon waking yesterday, and they flocked to his home in Johannesburg’s leafy Houghton neighborhood.
In a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said Mandela would want South Africans themselves to be his “memorial” by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.
“All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration,” Tutu said, recalling how Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid and prepared for all-race elections in 1994.
“God, thank you for the gift of Madiba,” Tutu said in his closing his prayer, using Mandela’s clan name.
Mandela was a “very human person” with a sense of humor who took interest in people around him, former South African president F.W. de Klerk said.
Summarizing Mandela’s legacy, de Klerk paraphrased Mandela’s own words on eNCA television: “Never and never again should there be in South Africa the suppression of anyone by another.”