Johannesburg - Looking out over Pretoria, there was a hush in the air. The only sounds were from a helicopter circling above and an ambulance far below.
Police helped the elderly and the disabled up steps to where Nelson Mandela lay in a white marquee, each corner of his glass-topped casket guarded by naval officers their heads down.
Mandela’s face looked full, his cheeks well rounded. He looked well, at peace, many remarked afterwards. He wore a typical Madiba shirt.
A policewoman held a box of tissues in case anyone needed them.
Veronica Olival blew Madiba a kiss. She held the arm of her blind brother, George Denobrega, warning him about steps.
“It was hard for me to feel anything at first,” said Denobrega, who held a walking cane.
“I knew I was there because everything went quiet and I felt a peacefulness in the air.”
Denobrega was blinded in 1987, injured by a mortar bomb during the South Africa-Angola war.
He, his sister and her husband, Louis Olival, made a very personal journey to bid farewell to a man they respected.
Veronica clutched a picture from July 15, 1998 of her then 15-year-old son Nelson on his sickbed with a smiling Mandela in their Pretoria flat.
Nelson Olival had lung cancer. He was diagnosed when he was 13 and they knew he wouldn’t make it.
“My son was dying of cancer and Mandela heard about him from our parish priest. He came to visit him.
“It meant a lot that he took time out of his busy schedule to meet my son. He was a very humble man, very down to earth. He taught us to love, respect and forgive,” she said.
Her son died in October that year.
“He spoke to Nelson about soccer. He asked which team he liked and Nelson said he didn’t follow any South African team. I nearly passed out when he said that. Mandela laughed.”
Mandela told her son to tell all his classmates that he loved them.
“It was special. He was there for us. Today I hope to get closure,” she said.
Louis said Mandela asked his younger son, aged 9 at the time, what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“He said he didn’t know, and Mandela told him he should aim to be the president of the country, like him. I can’t describe how I felt when he told my son that,” Louis said.
Because of Denobrega’s disability, the family were on one of the first buses to the Union Buildings, along with the elderly and other disabled people escorted by police, who helped to carry wheelchairs.
An 87-year-old recounted how he met Mandela when he had been courting Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and how even then he was a stately man.
But when viewing the body, the atmosphere changed.
“It felt weird,” said Tlhodi Moroe, who brought her five-year-old autistic son. “Peaceful.”