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Crowds Gather to See Mandela Lying in State

  • Anita Powell

The body of beloved South African icon Nelson Mandela is lying in state for three days ahead of his Sunday funeral. On Wednesday, thousands of people lined the streets of Pretoria for their chance to say goodbye.

Lindiwe Geza awoke at dawn to iron her heavy, mustard-yellow dress. She took care to arrange the many layers of her Xhosa traditional outfit just so -- the beaded cape that jingles when she dances, the heavy skirt, the carefully wound headdress.

She then took the bus to a nondescript street corner in Pretoria.

And then, along with the rest of the world, she waited.

Just after 7:00 a.m., a cortege emerged from the military hospital where Mandela had previously been admitted as a patient. He died Thursday at the age of 95 after an extraordinary life. He’s credited with ending South Africa’s oppressive apartheid regime and bringing peace to his racially divided nation.

People react as the procession for former South African president Nelson Mandela leaves the military hospital in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.

People react as the procession for former South African president Nelson Mandela leaves the military hospital in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.

Military police saluted down the chain like dominoes as they were passed by the car carrying Mandela’s coffin, draped in the brightly colored South African flag.

That was her only glimpse of Mandela, but she said, it was worth the effort. “So we thought that, you know, to iron these clothes actually, it’s not a big deal, because although, even if it takes a lot of time, it’s nothing compared to the time he took and the sacrifice that he has made for us in order that today we can be a rainbow nation,” explained Geza.

The somber procession then drove through central Pretoria on roads formerly named after the architects of apartheid. Thousands crowded the streets, waving flags and signs, and singing and dancing in praise of Mandela.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Mandela’s body will lie in state through Friday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria -- the compound where he worked after he became the nation’s first black president in 1994.

A solemn honor guard carried the casket into Pretoria’s Union Buildings. The first viewers were a veritable who’s who of world leaders, South African elites and international superstars -- evidence of Mandela’s truly global influence.

More than 90 world leaders gathered in Johannesburg on Tuesday for a memorial service honoring the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Below are excerpts.

  • South Africa's President Jacob Zuma: Mandela was a "fearless freedom fighter who refused to allow the brutality of the apartheid state" stand in the way for a struggle for liberation.
  • President Barack Obama: "Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals."
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "His compassion stands out most. He was angry at injustice, not at individuals."
  • Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff: "His fight went way beyond his national border and inspired men and women, young people and adults to fight for independence and social justice."
  • India's President Pranab Mukherjee: "He was the last of the giants who led the world's struggles against colonialism and his struggle held special significance for us."
  • Cuba's President Raul Castro: "Mandela has led his people into the battle against apartheid to open the way to a new South Africa, a non-racial and a united South Africa."
  • China's Vice President Li Yuanchao: "The Chinese people will always cherish the memory of his important contribution to the China - South Africa friendship and China-Africa relations.''
A drawn and regal-looking Winnie-Madikizela Mandela, Mandela’s former wife and partner in the struggle against apartheid, held on to her daughter Zindzi for support.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 89 and a longtime critic of Mandela, bowed curtly before the white-draped casket. His much younger wife Grace attempted a curtsy. South Africa’s police commissioner saluted, clenching her fists as she walked away resolutely.

And then came the ordinary mourners, in quick succession, men and women of all ages and colors, passing by his coffin in a blur. Firefighters, police, young men in jeans and women in African National Congress t-shirts walked by. Many wiped their eyes or openly sobbed as they walked away.

The event also drew droves of visitors and non-South Africans. Paula Gutierrez is a native of Colombia. She has lived in Pretoria for a year, and said she felt she needed to see Mandela for one last time.

“I just think that just being part of this is being part of history, is being part of an icon moment, and being part of this leader, and saying goodbye.”

Mandela’s body will be on view through Friday in Pretoria. He will then be buried on Sunday in a family ceremony in his ancestral home of Qunu.

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