The saddest goodbye

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President Jacob Zuma is followed by Graca Machel and Winnie Mandela as they pay their respects at Mandela's coffin. Picture: Marco Longari

Johannesburg - It started with President Jacob Zuma, the first citizen to pay his respects as Nelson Mandela lay in state at the Union Buildings on Wednesday.

He stood there for a while, looking at Madiba through the clear-topped casket, and bowed his head.

Then Graça Machel and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela followed.

Both in black.

Both with their hair covered.

Both physically leaning on aides for support.

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Nelson Mandelas widow, Gra�a Machel, pays her respects as he lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: Elmond Jiyane


Machel looked at the face in that casket for a long time, her hand resting in the casing.

As she walked out, she wiped away tears.

Then children. Grandchildren. Close friends. All suited.

Zenani Mandela left visibly emotional, Makaziwe by her side.

Mandla Mandela, the head of the family, sat inside as the guests filed past. He kept his hands on his knees, and on the table next to him were several bottles of water.

He had been there since the casket arrived a few hours earlier.

When the wind blew and moved the white veil over the casket, he stood up and straightened it, and sat down again, resuming his position.

Madiba lies dressed in one of his trademark colourful batik shirts from Indonesia. Through a glass casing, visitors can see the brown-and-yellow shirt and Mandela’s face. His lower body is covered.

Four guards with heads bowed guard each corner of the coffin as visitors pass by for a brief moment of reflection alongside the global icon’s body.

Throughout the day they filed past, brought by the busloads from grounds around the city.

Earlier, heads of state, dignitaries and VIPs arrived and were led through quickly: down the stairs, in the amphitheatre, out the amphitheatre, up the stairs, back into the buses.

Most wore suits. Others wore traditional wear.

Former president Thabo Mbeki’s face looked grave and old.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and a black-laced Grace bowed.

President Salva Kiir Mayardit, of South Sudan, in a cowboy hat. Spokesman Jackson Mthembu in ANC gear. Top cop General Riah Phiyega in uniform.

FW de Klerk and former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda also paid their respects.

Madiba’s former personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, left red-faced and holding a tissue, clutching the hand of U2 frontman Bono, one of the many emotional mourners.


Ministers. Government officials. The public.

At the casket, they made signs of the cross. They bowed. They nodded. Some walked right past without stopping. Briskly.

A few moments of Mandela, then nothing.

But the amphitheatre where Madiba will lie in state for one more day will always have a Mandela link, after Zuma announced during Tuesday’s memorial service that it would be named after the statesman.

It was at the Union Buildings nearly 20 years ago that Mandela set out his vision of a racially integrated rainbow nation.

On Wednesday, his funeral cortege passed several landmark sites that spoke of key moments in his political journey.


Madiba will be buried in his boyhood village of Qunu, Eastern Cape, on Sunday.

The Star

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