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‘Look around… white and black,everyone together. This is what he wanted’

There were protest songs and gospel songs and,every now and then,the South African national anthem.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Johannesburg |
December 6, 2013 10:31:03 pm

The words of Nicholas Harmer,a 58-year-old hotel manager,were poignant and his eyes misty: “During those long years of struggle,who would have thought that a bunch of white men will one day come together and shed tears for a black man?” Like everyone else in South Africa,Harmer had just seen the news flash about Nelson Mandela’s passing.

Soon after the news broke on Thursday night,thousands gathered outside the home of the father of the nation in Soweto’s Vilakazi Street. The mood was emotional,but not sombre. “We are not here to mourn. We are here to celebrate the legacy of Madiba,” said Chris Otambo,who works at the Sandton mall nearby.

“Look around you,” he said. “White and black,everyone together. This is what he would have wanted. This is what he dreamed of. And he’s got it.”

On the streets of Soweto,large,mixed groups sang and danced spontaneously. There were protest songs and gospel songs and,every now and then,the South African national anthem. Madiba was the central theme,the night resonating with cries of “Nel-sonn Mandel-laa…”,“Madi-baa walk away now…” and “Ayy-yoo Matataaa…”

A mother of two who identified herself as Nicole said the ideology of forgiveness and reconciliation would remain Mandela’s immortal legacy. “We are here today because of him. He fought for us,spent 27 years in a prison,but when he came out he embraced those who had oppressed him,” she said.

Nicole held two candles in her hands,others lit theirs in a corner,along with incense sticks. Many of those who knelt there were young,possibly having spent fewer years on earth than Mandela did at Robben Island.

Delfino,a Nigerian music promoter,said he had visited Johannesburg many times before,but had never been to the Apartheid Museum — until Wednesday. “I went there and also saw the new movie about him,Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. And the next day I hear he’s dead and I’m here,” he said,clearly fighting back tears.

“This is like what must have been in India when Gandhi was killed. Madiba changed our world. Life can never be the same,but he will want us to move on,” said a person of Indian origin at Vilakazi Street.

As Thursday night turned into dawn on Friday,the crowds continued to pour into the area,a pilgrimage of all the many peoples of the rainbow nation. The morning newspapers seemed to have nothing apart from the news of the passing of the “dear son of the peoples of the world”.

“The World Weeps”,said The Star on its front page. An Afrikaans daily reconciled to the loss: “Ewe lento kakade yinto yalanto”,meaning “What is,is,and cannot be avoided”. South Africa was beginning to prepare for life without Madiba.

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