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
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
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
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
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
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
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