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December 05, 2013

S. Africans Gather Outside Mandela’s Johannesburg Home

by Peter Cox

As news broke that the first leader of post-apartheid South Africa had died, Nelson Mandela's countrymen began to gather outside his home in a leafy suburb of Johannesburg.

The streets were blocked off around Nelson Mandela's home in the moments after his death was announced on national television and radio. Mourners from all corners of Johannesburg and from surrounding cities began streaming in, some carrying flowers, South African flags and candles.

Outside of his home, several hundred people were gathered around 1 a.m., chanting his name and singing songs in his memory.

Sikhumbuzo Vilane drove an hour to come to Mandela's Houghton home as soon as he heard the news.

"I was shocked and very, very sad…He meant everything to me and I hope to every South African," he said.

Vilane says Mandela's election as president in 1994, after his release from prison, was life altering.

"It was like new hope, a new day for South Africa.  It was like a country being reborn....Whatever I am today," he said. "Most of what I have today, most of what I've achieved.  Most of it I could attribute to Mandela's fight for freedom."

Mourners continued gathering through the night outside the Mandela home.  Helicopters flew overhead and police directed traffic for blocks around the house.

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Snkosina Nkosi, a cab driver, lives nearby.  He stopped by to see if what he'd heard was true.

"When I heard about his health, I was at work.  I heard the announcement on the radio." he said. "I just let me rush before I arrange my house, and see by my own eyes whether it's true that our icon has passed away, so I know the truth."

Nkosi says he owes his freedom to the late anti-apartheid leader.

"Before Mandela became president, it was hard for people to go wherever they wanted to go," he said. "Since Mandela became president.  We've got the freedom to go wherever we want to go.  We go just because of Mandela."

South African singer Mercy Pakela walked down the street to pay her respects to her neighbor and friend.  Pakela, who had met Mandela several times, said it is a big loss for the country, but Mandela's work is done, referencing the name of his autobiography.

"He's walked the long walk to freedom, but he is free now and he's happy and he's peaceful wherever he is because he's done his work," she said.

Flags will be flown at half staff Friday, as the country mourns the loss of its beloved former president.​