Everyone has a tribute for Mandela

Mourners gather behind police cordons after being denied entry to the site where former President Nelson Mandela was lying in state in Pretoria. Photo by Reuters
Mourners gather behind police cordons after being denied entry to the site where former President Nelson Mandela was lying in state in Pretoria. Photo by Reuters
COLUMN: I became a little emotional yesterday.

For the first time on my trip back to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral, the sheer magnitude of the occasion finally got to me and I had to take a quiet moment.

I was standing outside the Union Buildings, the hilltop seat of government in Pretoria, when it happened. Thousands of people were lining the streets waiting for that opportunity to catch a glimpse of their leader as he lay in state in an amphitheatre at the same building where he was inaugurated as South Africa's first democratically elected President in 1994.

I had just spent a moving hour or so chatting to people waiting patiently in the queue for the buses that would take them up to the Union Buildings for their special moment with Madiba, the Father of the Nation. Their resolute determination to pay tribute to their Tata was clear and they were happy to talk about it. No, they were proud to talk about it.

As I walked along the line of people, I would stop and chat. I had just finished interviewing one group of people, when a young man further up in the queue demanded: "You interviewed them, why not me? I also have a story to tell you."

And he did. They all had personal tributes. And then it hit me, this was not only their moment, but mine as well.

As I stood there by myself, a little removed from the crowds, I reflected on what being there at this historic moment in history meant to me.

All my earlier frustrations at not being able to see the body myself disappeared. The media were given no special privileges and would have to queue like everyone else - for hours.

But at that moment, it did not matter. I will admit that for the second time in a week - the first time was when I heard that Mandela had died - I shed a few quiet tears.

The day of the memorial service had been a miserable day, but now as I stood there, I was baking under the hot, dry Pretoria sun.

I was transported back to 1994 when millions of South Africans queued in the sun to cast their votes, some for the very first time, in South Africa's first democratic elections.

Although the mood was more sombre yesterday - they were there to mourn their hero - it still had that confidence and resolute determination to show their country could be a success.

As I stood there before this grandly designed building that was once a symbol of apartheid, I felt at peace.

Whatever it is going through, South Africa has resilience, just like those patient people in the queues.

It made me happy.


By Andrew Austin

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