100 000 viewed Madiba’s body

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Navy officers stand guard near the coffin of former president Nelson Mandela on the last day of Mandela's lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: Alexander Joe

Pretoria - About 100 000 people paid homage to former president Nelson Mandela during the three days his body lay in state at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, the government said on Friday.

“The third day closed with over 50 000 paying their respects to our national icon,” said acting government spokeswoman Phumla Williams.

As the coffin was carried down the steps of the amphitheatre for the final time late on Friday afternoon, Mandela's grandson Mandla spoke softly to it, following traditional custom.

He grimaced in weary emotional pain, as the coffin was carried to the hearse for the final time.

A solemn-looking Mandla has remained with the coffin each day, travelling with it as it was transported to and from 1 Military Hospital.

On Friday afternoon, the coffin, draped in a South African flag, was placed in the hearse with senior male Mandela family members standing nearby.

A military band played the national anthem, as has been the practice every morning since the process of lying in state began, after which a cortege of official vehicles departed.

Soldiers and police officers formed a guard of honour during the final proceedings.

There have been long queues of people desperate to bid a final farewell to the former president on each of the three days on which his body has been on display at the seat of government.

While at times park-and-ride facilities in the city have been frenetic, there has been a sombre silence at the actual viewing area.

On Wednesday, the Mandela family was the first to view the body.

Mandela's widow Graca Machel wept as she reached out to the coffin.

The public was then allowed in from 10am.

On Thursday, SA National Defence Force members were let in first, each saluting the coffin as they filed past.

The City of Tshwane said over 20 000 people queued on Thursday for a chance to pay their last respects to Mandela.

Acting government communications spokeswoman Phumla Williams said in a statement that between 12 000 to 14 000 people viewed the body on Wednesday.

She estimated that two people every three seconds filed past Mandela's coffin.

On Friday, a stampede almost broke out at the park-and-ride facility at the Tshwane Events Centre when people learnt that transport had been cancelled mid-morning after the government said capacity had been reached for the day.

Mandela died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, last Thursday, at the age of 95.

On Saturday morning, his body will be flown from Waterkloof Air Force Base to the Eastern Cape. He will be buried on Sunday in state funeral at Qunu, where he spent much of his childhood.

President Jacob Zuma will unveil a nine-metre high bronze statue of Mandela at the Union Buildings on Monday.


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