It was with a sense of sadness that the nation woke up to the news that Nelson Mandela had died on Thursday night.
Leaders in KwaZulu-Natal are calling for South Africans to stand together and build on Mandela’s legacy.
KZN premier, Senzo Mchunu, said while the world was aware of Mandela’s ill health, nothing could have prepared us for the reality.
“We know that Madiba has not been well for some time… and whatever news trickled from his home about his health, always brought a sense of hope,” Mchunu said.
“Then all of a sudden we hear the sad news last night. We are all sad and short of words. He is an international icon… our national hero. He laid down his life for the people of South Africa. We feel the vacuum.”
Mchunu described Mandela as “the humblest person I have ever met”.
Mchunu recalled a political rally in 1996 when Mandela was running late.
“We expected him to rush to the stadium. But he walked in and started greeting all the security forces around the stadium, asking them about their family. It was a humbling and disarming gesture.”
On another occasion, landing in Empangeni during his term as president, Mandela was met at the landing strip by IFP protesters.
“As he came out of the plane there were protesters holding placards and demonstrating. We told him to ignore them. But he went to those people and started shaking hands. By the time he got to the fifth person, they were no longer demonstrating, they were more willing to shake his hands. That’s how powerful he was.”
eThekwini city manager, Sbu Sithole, said he was saddened by the news.
“But we need to unite the people of South Africa and focus on the poorest of the poor. This is what his life was about.”
Sithole said he had met Mandela several times at a number of political rallies.
“He was really the epitome of the struggle. He had a foresight that is rare among leaders. Mandela was always part of a collective, not just the individual. He wouldn’t have been where he was without the support of Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki… he became the collective wisdom of all of those men.”
eThekwini mayor, James Nxumalo, said he was devastated by the news.
“He was a different man, the father of a nation.
“It’s a disaster but, at the same time, we must accept, as a nation that he has gone.”
Nxumalo said he had met Mandela in 1991 when he was part of the ANC Youth League.
“I couldn’t believe I was shaking his hand. I didn’t want to wash my hand! He was a simple man, a man of higher dignity, a man without revenge.”
He said city officials would meet on Friday to decide how they would commemorate Mandela’s death.
MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nomusa Dube, said she felt a sense of deep loss.
“He helped everybody and cared for everybody. It is as if one of the poles in our tent has fallen.”
Zweli Mkhize, treasurer-general of the ANC said it was a time to lead through Mandela’s legacy of tolerance and reconciliation.
“The fact that he has passed is the end of a unique era. Madiba was a father to everyone. He is one person who the whole world could stand to honour and grieve together.”
Mkhize worked closely with Mandela in the early 1990s and recalls that time fondly.
“He always had a unique sense about him. He would always call you by name, shake your hand and make you feel comfortable.”
Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, described Mandela as “the greatest leader of all time”.
“He had a way about him and created compassion in almost any situation. He had the ability to relate to every human being.”
Trikamjee recalled visiting his friend, Strini Moodley, a founding member of the Black Consciousness movement, on Robben Island.
“Strini shared a cell with Mandela when he first arrived on the island and whenever I would visit Strini, I would get a message from Mandela “tell Ashwin I say hello”.
“I met Mandela in Johannesburg shortly after he was released and I introduced myself to him. He said, “who doesn’t know Ashwin Trikamjee?”.
“Every time I met him subsequently, there was just a warmth. When he shook your hand he exuded a warmth and you felt you were blessed.”
Minority Front (MF) spokesman, Patrick Pillay, said the party conveyed its deepest condolences to Madiba’s family.
“Nelson Mandela was an invincible pillar, the champion of all champions and the symbol of love for all the people of this world. South Africans are proud to have had one of the greatest son’s of the world.”
He said the MF was honoured to have shared a historical relationship with Mandela and that his unconditional love and community work were some of his greatest assets which he shared with everyone.
Speaker of eThekwini Municipality, Logie Naidoo, recalled his first meeting with Mandela in Tongaat in 1994.
“I had the privilege of awarding him with the Freedom of the Town of Tongaat and he decided to come, in person, even though he was president at the time and was scheduled to fly overseas.
“He mad a wonderful speech of his days in hiding, disguised as a petrol attendant and meeting with Albert Luthuli.
“For us it was such a special moment.
“He had such a presence and a radiance about his face.”