By Sheree Bega, Craig Dodds, Sameer Naik, Noni Mokati
Johannesburg - In his final moments, Nelson Mandela lay on his deathbed, surrounded by those who loved him – his wife Graca Machel at his side, as well as family, elders from his Thembu clan, a priest and family elder Bantu Holomisa.
“I can’t describe what happened,” Holomisa told the Saturday Star on Friday.
“I went into Tata’s bedroom. There were a few people there. I could see things were not the same… I was privileged to be invited by the family to see Madiba in his last few hours.”
It was more than two months since Mandela was discharged from a Pretoria hospital with a severe and unrelenting lung infection, but he remained on life support at his Houghton home. He had spent the past year in and out of hospital.
There would be a fitting farewell, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday. He confirmed that Mandela would be laid to rest at a state funeral next Sunday in his homestead in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.
A 10-day period of mourning had begun on Friday.
Mandela’s body would lie in state from Wednesday until Friday, before making the journey to Qunu. Zuma also confirmed that official memorials would be held in all nine provinces during the mourning period.
Holomisa, who found a political mentor in Mandela, urged South Africans to accept his death. After all, Mandela had given “us enough warning” as his “first health scares came about eight years ago”, he said.
CNN reported on Friday that the Thembu elders were at Mandela’s bedside to perform a traditional ceremony – “the closing of the eyes” – to ease the transition from life.
“The ceremony would have involved the elders talking to Mandela, and to his ancestors, to explain what was happening to his spirit during each stage as he passed from life on Earth,” it said.
The Daily Mirror in the UK reported that “there was no sign of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela” on Thursday night. Last month, she revealed how Mandela was “quite ill” and using facial expressions to communicate. His house had to be kept sterile to ensure re-infection did not occur.
After midnight, a military convoy escorted a simple black SUV containing Mandela’s coffin, draped in the national flag, to 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria.
The first warning that his death was imminent was sounded on Wednesday, when his daughter Makaziwe described her father as on his deathbed, but remaining “very courageous”.
Dr Louis Gus Gecelter, Mandela’s urologist, told the Saturday Star: “I spoke to some of the doctors looking after him and the time had come. He had a tracheotomy and bed sores. He was unconscious. He was on continual artificial dialysis the whole time.
“He had no quality of life. Most doctors do not want to prolong life indefinitely. They want to prolong quality of life.”
As he had in life, in death Mandela drew leaders from across the political spectrum behind his vision of a united nation. Even feuding Cosatu leaders Zwelinzima Vavi and Sidumo Dlamini went “hand in hand” to visit his family.
The ANC expressed sadness at the news its secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the “nation has lost a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and the hope of millions, here and abroad.”
DA leader Helen Zille said Mandela had given the country “a gift for which we, and successive generations, will be forever grateful”.
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said the country should reflect on the meaning of Mandela’s life, while IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he would share his memories of Mandela “once the initial shock subsides”.
AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele said Mandela had “symbolised the exemplary values that all good people the world over hold dear – integrity, commitment to equality and the well-being of all people, irrespective of race, faith, geographic location or position”.
Some South Africans were woken up by calls from relatives and friends, informing them of Mandela’s death on Thursday night.
Others only found out when they turned on the TV or radio in the morning.
Crowds gathered at Mandela’s homes and workplaces, but most South Africans went on with their daily lives, although many felt a deep sense of loss. Some felt relief that his final struggle was over. For many, it is a celebration of his life that is important.
At a press briefing at the SABC studios Zuma thanked South Africans for the dignified manner in which they had responded to Mandela’s death.
He said Sunday would be a national day of prayer and reflection, calling on “all churches, mosques and others“ to join in.
Zuma said all South Africans needed to work together to organise the most befitting funeral for the “outstanding man that was Mandela”.
*Buy any Independent weekend newspaper for the special Nelson Mandela supplement.