South Africa’s masses poured into the streets and assigned venues to mourn the death and celebrate the life and struggles of Nelson Rohlihahla Mandela. From formal memorial services in Johannesburg to Mandela’s remains lying in state in Pretoria, to community gatherings and those at his residences, all culminating in the state funeral in Qunu, people from inside the country and internationally expressed their grief and appreciation for the heroic contributions of one of the most notable political figures of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
At the official memorial services on Dec. 10, which took place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg where the 2010 World Soccer Cup was held, more than 100,000 people gathered inside and around the stadium to express their condolences. There was live streaming of the memorial as well as activities surrounding the stadium.
Current and former heads of state attended, including Cuban President Raúl Castro, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, along with the second African National Congress President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others. Heavy rains occurred that morning, forcing many people to abandon their seats and stand under a huge shed at the stadium.
Tens of thousands of others marched and chanted freedom songs recalling the days of the armed and mass struggle that turned the tide in the long struggle to end legalized segregation and the super economic exploitation which characterized the apartheid system. Those who could not get into the stadium marched around the area carrying ANC and South African flags, chanting and praising the heroic struggle of the liberation movement and its leader Nelson Mandela.
President Raúl Castro of Cuba noted that “Cuba, which has African blood in its veins, rose up in the struggle for independence and for the abolition of slavery and, subsequently, has had the privilege of battling and building together with African nations. We shall never forget Mandela’s moving tribute to our common struggle when he visited us on July 26, 1991, and stated, ‘The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa.’” (Read more of Raúl Castro’s talk in this issue and online.)
Raúl Castro received a roaring round of applause in the aftermath of his address.
Also gaining a warm welcome was Republic of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who along with the Cuban leadership is often demonized by the governments and corporate media outlets of the Western imperialist states.
Upon arriving back in Zimbabwe after attending the memorial, Mugabe told the Zimbabwe Herald newspaper regarding an alleged feud with Mandela, “I don’t know about any feud. If anything, there was an alliance. We worked very well with him when he came out of prison. We gave him support.” (Dec. 11)
Mugabe continued, “We established the principle of national reconciliation [at independence in 1980], they took it over and used it as a basis to create what they have now as the Rainbow Nation. There was no feud, where was the feud, what feud?”
Mass outpouring in Pretoria, Eastern Cape & the world
On Dec. 11, people began to line up to view Mandela’s body lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported that approximately 100,000 viewed the coffin during the daytime hours for three days.
The procession was led by Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, and his former spouse, Winnie Mandela.
On Dec. 14, Mandela was taken on a jet by today’s top military officials of the South African National Defense Forces, most of whom are veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed-wing of the ANC founded by Mandela in 1961. The body was flown to the city of Umtata in the Eastern Cape where a military-led convoy drove to Qunu, the area where Mandela grew up during the 1920s and 1930s.
Thousands lined the streets and roads of the cities, towns and villages to get a glimpse of the convoy. The ANC government had constructed a marquee near the burial grounds where the party held its own memorial service on Dec. 14.
An overnight vigil was then held, and the following morning the official state funeral took place. The ceremony was attended by 4,500 people.
Speeches and tributes were made by current President Jacob Zuma and former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, where the ANC was based for many years in the capital of Lusaka. Kaunda recalled his efforts to convince the successive colonial white-settler leaders to release Mandela and other political prisoners.
United Republic of Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete recalled Mandela and the ANC’s close connection with this East African state, which was the base of numerous national liberation movements in Southern Africa. Under former President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania devoted considerable resources in training guerrillas and political cadres of the ANC and other organizations.
The death of the former guerrilla leader and political prisoner turned president was covered extensively through media outlets worldwide. The state funeral and burial were reported live by the SABC and hundreds of other news outlets. An estimated 3,000 journalists covered the funeral in Qunu.
Memorials were also held in other parts of Africa and the international community. South African embassies and diplomatic outposts throughout the world provided books of condolences that were signed by many millions.
This widespread reporting is indicative of the contribution that Mandela and the South African revolutionary struggle have attained over the decades. n