Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Nelson Mandela - 10 Days of Mourning, A Lifetime of Celebration

"In the last few years we have walked this road with greater frequency, marching in the procession to bid farewell to the veterans of our movement, paying our last respects to the fallen spears of the nation from a generation now reaching the end of a long heroic struggle."
- Nelson Mandela speaking at the funeral of Walter Sisulu

As soon as I heard about the passing of late statesman, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, I knew I had to document South Africans saying thank you to the greatest leader of the 20th Century.
During the ten days of mourning I would wake up and ask myself, "what shall I do for Nelson Mandela today?" I may have not done the most for him but I am glad I did my best to say thank you to my hero, our superhero.

Madiba In The City

"Good use of photography will give even poverty with all its rags, filth and vermin a measure of divineness rarely noticeable in real life."
- Nelson Mandela

If you have read my recent blog posts you will know that I created an online exhibition called Madiba In The City. This was the first way I said thank you to the man who gave me freedom. Cities around the world were saying thank you and so I decided to document how they were saying thank you. With the help of various exhibitors, I was able to showcase how Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria were celebrating the life of Madiba.

Photograph by Zovuyo Mputa
Photograph by Ignatius Mokone

Photographs by Thozama Mputa
The best thing about celebrating the life of South Africa's favourite leader with other South Africans, is overhearing all the different stories from people you have never met. My sister, Thozama Mputa, met a man who was carrying his photograph with him and Nelson Mandela. Above you can see his photograph.

To view the rest of the exhibition be sure to visit whatzedsaw.tumblr.com. I would also like to say thank you to all who sent in their photographs for the exhibition. If you would still like to send in your photographs please refer to the Madiba In The City Blog Post.

Union Buildings

"There is no easy walk to freedom"
- Nelson Mandela from the 'No Easy Walk To Freedom' Speech

South Africans were given a chance to say their final goodbye to Mandela while he lay in state for three days. Park and ride facilities were available for all who wished to make their way to the Union Buildings where he lay in state.

On the 11th of December I woke up and got myself ready to see Mandela. Dressed in a black dress, wearing face paint and equipped with my camera and video camera, I made my way to the LC de Villiers Park and Ride with two friends of mine.
Upon arrival we were shocked by how long the line was. I am not good at estimating distance however I can tell you that we were more than 500m away from the front of the line. Also remember that we are not standing in a single file. Immediately people started comparing the length of the line to the 1994 elections were Nelson Mandela was elected as the first democratic president of the Republic of South Africa.

With the Pretoria sun blazing, people would leave the line to sit down in the shade or sing struggle and praise songs with fellow mourners. It was the calmest I had ever seen South Africans. Usually in a situation like this, South Africans would be complaining and causing near riots, however because we all wanted say farewell to the man who gave us freedom, we all stood in peace.

For maybe about one hour we did not see a single bus arrive at the park and ride. Police buses and long distance buses had to be called and were greeted with cheers and screams upon arrival. We finally all thought that we were going to see Nelson Mandela.

Park and Ride Line

About three and a half hours after our arrival we were asked to turn around. The park and ride was closed and no more buses were coming. As we left the park and ride with painful feet and darker skin, we all decided that tomorrow we would also stand in line to say thank you.

On the 12th of December I woke up at 04:30. It was dark and cold but I put on my black clothing, Africa earrings and facepaint. Off to the park and ride I went. When I arrived I thought I was early so the front of the line would by my position. How wrong I was. I was approximately 500m away from the front, further than were I was the previous day when we were asked to leave. But I didn't turn back, I stood in the line and waited for the authorities to arrive.

See Photographs of the Park and Ride Lines

All mourners were marked before
they were allowed onto buses.
Nelson Mandela only left 1 Military Hospital and 07:00 and made his way through an hour long procession in Pretoria. That meant that we would only be allowed in buses at about 07:30, two hours after I arrived at the park and ride facility.

By about 06:00 the line was one kilometre long and even more people were arriving. Unlike the previous day, there were more buses to transport people. At about 06:00 there were already twenty buses waiting to take mourners to the buildings. It may have only been 6am but it seemed as if the sun was already at it's highest.

Finally at about 07:30 we were allowed into the buses. As early as I arrived I didn't make the first group of twenty buses. As soon as the last bus left, I was at the front of the line, scanned, stamped and asked to stand on the other side of the security check. It was now 08:00 and I knew once I made it to the other side I was on my way to say thank you.

Because there were not enough buses and because of the traffic at the Union Buildings we had to wait an hour for another set of buses to arrive. Finally at 08:45 they arrived and we were on our way to the Union Buildings. I was not ready for what I was about to experience.

After an hour of waiting to gain access to the Union Buildings we finally made our way inside.
As soon as you step off the bus you are put in a single file line, which is the shortest line you will stand in. Police officers check to make sure you are carry no phones and are also cracking a few jokes to lighten our hearts.

At this time I knew that I was going to see him, the man who changed our world forever. I was shaking, scared, nervous. I felt like I was going in to write an exam I had not studied for. My heart was beating faster than usual and even the police officers could not calm my nerves. We walked up another set of stairs and were greeted by other police officers who asked: "Where have you been? We have been waiting for you!"

We walked through several hallways which were manned by the South African Military. By this time the jokes had stopped. We had all stopped sharing our stories of how long we waited in line.

As soon as I saw the SABC camera, South African Navy and what looked like a secret security service, I knew I had made it. Even writing this blog post makes my heart skip a beat.
I have never fainted before but I was quite sure I was about to faint as I approached to the casket. Members of the South African Navy looked at me and they could see I was lightheaded. To assure them I was alright I smiled as there was no talking or turning back at this point.

Five seconds later and I had already walked past the late president.
It had taken me more than six hours to spend 5 seconds with the first democratically elected president of South Africa however that six hours does not compare to 27 years and I would definitely do it again.

Mourners making their way into the Union Buildings

Once you walk past there is no time for you to breakdown or have a conversation with others. The military, navy, what looks like secret service, police officers and Interpol are all there to guide you to the bus that bought you to the Union Buildings.
There were tears and sighs or relief once we all saw that he is now resting in peace.

Only ten thousand people were able to see the former statesman, that is 0.01% of the population. That is why I always tell people that I went to go see him for them. I am the only member of my immediate and extended family who got to see him but as I mentioned, I saw for them and I saw for you as well. I said thank you for them and I say thank you for you as well.

Nelson Mandela Procession From 1 Military Building To The Union Buildings

"It becomes important, the older you get, to return to places where you have wonderful collections"
- Nelson Mandela

The 13th of December was the last day Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela lay in state and also the day I went to watch the procession. As tired as I was from the previous day, I woke up at 05:30 to be part of the proceedings. My friend and I were at the Gautrain station by 6am and were already in the CBD by 06:15. Once we left the station we found ourselves walking with other South Africans who were on their way to see procession and while we walked we shared stories of how we had been celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.

We finally arrived at Madiba Street at about 06:30 and could hear echoes of struggle and praise songs being sung. Because it was still 30 minutes until Nelson Mandela would leave 1 Military Hopsital, I decided to join in the fun.

Men and women were joined together to sing songs about the late president. The government had asked South Africans to celebrate the life of Madiba and that is what we were doing. As the singing continued the line along the procession continued to grow. Men, women and children had all lined the street and were ready to say goodbye one last time.

After the singing I went to find my place in the line and waited for the late statesman. At 06:50 the first helicopter starts to circulate the Union Buildings and does so until after 17:00. As soon as I heard the first helicopter in the air I knew that he was on his way.

As soon as you hear ululating in the distance and what sounds like an airbus in the air, you know that he is close. Followed by what looks like a military helicopter, police officers and military officials drive by in motorbikes in front of the car which transports the body of Nelson Mandela. It may have taken only two seconds for him to drive by me but I was content. It was the last time I would be in the presence of the greatest leader of the 20th century and I was fine with that. I had said thank you and in order to repay him for the work he did for me, I have to continue his legacy.

Read The Tribute To Nelson Mandela Blog Post

At times it was quite difficult for me to write this blog post as I had to remember the ten days of mourning. As much as it was a time of celebration I spent most of the time thinking about the sacrifices Nelson Mandela made to give myself and the rest of South Africa freedom. Those thoughts aren't necessarily filled with laughter and smiles and neither are the beautiful documentaries the SABC was showing during the mourning period.
However Mandela would not want us to sit and think about the past but rather look to the future.

The three days I spent walking up and down Pretoria, standing in line for over 6 hours, waking up before the sun will never compare to the work Nelson Mandela did for us.

I will forever speak about Mandela and the experiences I have mentioned above. For a man who gave us everything I could speak about him every single day. I hope everyone celebrated him and continue to celebrate him. If you have not yet found reason to celebrate him, I hope one day you do.

Once again, Thank You Tata Nelson Mandela.

Madiba In The City

"On my last day I want to know that those who remain behind will say: 'The man who lies here had done his duty for his country and his people.'"
- Nelson Mandela


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