— 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.
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.
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.
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.
Police form a barricade after the the cut off time for viewing the body of Nelson Mandela outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 13, 2013.
Crowds of people walk after learning they would not be able to view Nelson Mandela's body at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 13, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
South African police control the crowd following a crush as people jostled to see former South African president Nelson Mandela on the last day of his lying in state in Pretoria, Dec. 13, 2013.
People line up to catch a bus to see the remains of Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 12, 2013.
People line up for courtesy buses to ferry them to the Union Buildings to view the body of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, Dec. 12, 2013.
A woman weeps after paying her respects to Nelson Mandela as Mandela lies in state for the second day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 12, 2013.
South African mourners hold posters of former president Nelson Mandela, while chanting slogans as the convoy transporting his remains passes by in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
Military personnel carry the remains of the late Nelson Mandela upon arrival at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel, right, pays her respects to the former South African president at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
Mourners line up after waiting for hours to get into a bus to go to the Union Buildings where the casket of Nelson Mandela lies in state for three days 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.
Defense force personnel and hospital staff salute a procession for former South African president Nelson Mandela as it leaves the military hospital in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.
Women wave South African national flags before the cortege carrying the coffin of former South African President Nelson Mandela passes by in Pretoria, Dec. 11, 2013.