Tears, despair as thousands bid Madiba farewell

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Madelene Cronje/SAPA

The body of late former President Nelson Mandela spent it's second day laying in state at the Union Buildings for public viewing.

Pretoria -

Mourning for former president Nelson Mandela found expression in queues of tens of thousands streaming to his coffin for a second day, as the government encountered criticism in the wake of his death.

The government said up to 14 000 people had viewed Mandela lying in state by Thursday morning, when fresh crowds of mourners massed in Pretoria from dawn for a chance to see his cortege moving through the streets or to salute his coffin at the Union Buildings.

People from all races queued for hours, suggestive of the “rainbow” nation Mandela evoked when he was sworn in as president here in 1994.

By late afternoon, the government extended the viewing period by an hour.

An elderly white woman who spoke briefly to Mandela's grandson Mandla after paying her final respects to the country's freedom icon and first black leader, expressed despair at a future without him.

“What's going to become of us now? What's going to become of us now that he is gone? What is going to become of this nation?” she asked afterwards as a policewoman comforted her.

Many mourners commented that Mandela was irreplaceable. Others said that seeing him lie in state had brought home the painful reality of his death, despite a week of memorials, prayer meetings and concerts in his honour.

“It was bad to see my leader, my real comrade, lying down like that. I got closure,” said Norman Tshivhase, who works for the department of correctional services.

Former president Thabo Mbeki acknowledged on Wednesday night concerns about the level of political leadership in South Africa, and suggested there was a need for introspection and improvement.

“Exactly because we are dealing with this more complex struggle, we need to raise the level of the quality of leadership,” Mbeki told a memorial service for Mandela at the Calvary Church, in Midrand.

“To accelerate this progress that we need, we'll come back to this matter about the quality of leadership.”

Mbeki was cheered at Mandela's official memorial in Soweto on Tuesday, while President Jacob Zuma suffered a humiliating snub as sections of the crowd repeatedly booed him in front of more than 90 world leaders and millions of viewers.

The ruling party reacted angrily, and on Thursday the ANC in Gauteng said it would try to establish who had incited the heckling.

“We reiterate our strongest condemnation of the booing, which was despicable and in bad taste. The booing was a disgrace to the legacy of Nelson Mandela,” it said in a statement.

“It is even more distasteful that it was directed at our president.”

Zuma has lived in an uncomfortable spotlight since Mandela's death, which comes as he is weathering the Nkandla scandal.

ANC national executive committee member Bheki Cele begged for an end to comparisons between the two leaders.

“Mandela is a man of his time, just like other leaders who have made their mark in different times of history. This obsession with comparisons must stop,” said the former national police commissioner and Zuma ally.

Cele blamed the booing on newcomers in the ruling party's ranks - contradicting early suggestions that it had been orchestrated by members of Julius Malema's new political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters.

On Thursday, Malema took a political message to mourners gathered outside the Johannesburg home where Mandela died.

“Thank you (Mandela) for ushering in political freedom... Those who came after you failed to deliver economic freedom. We are picking up this battle,” he said.

The government suffered more embarrassment when the official sign language translator at the Soweto memorial was branded a fraud by members of the country's deaf community.

It confirmed that Thamsanqa Jantjie has worked for the department of justice for years. He insisted that he was a qualified signer, but said he suffered a schizophrenic episode at the memorial.

“There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation,” he told The Star, adding that he had been hearing voices and hallucinating.

Deaf organisations rejected the claim, and said they had complained to the government about Jantjie's work in the past.

Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu conceded “a mistake” but blamed the company through which he had been contracted.

“Did a mistake happen? Yes,” the deputy minister said.

“I don't think it would be accurate for me to stand here and say we are embarrassed. A mistake happened while we were trying.... We try to improve.”

She said SA Interpreters, for whom Jantjie worked, had been found after the memorial to have been providing sub-standard sign language services for some time.

“It appears that they had been cheating all along.”

Mandela's body will lie in state for a third and final day on Friday.

His hearse will retrace the same symbolic route from 1 Military Hospital past the Pretoria Central Prison and the high court where, at the close of the Rivonia Trial, he declared that he was prepared to die for the ideal of a non-racial society.

He will be buried in Qunu, in the rural Eastern Cape, on Sunday.

The state funeral here, in Mandela's boyhood village, will be accompanied by Xhosa cultural rituals. Preparations at the Mandela graveyard were underway, but were shielded from view as the government pleaded with the media to respect the family's privacy. - Sapa


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