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Makeba's remains to return home

Published Nov 11, 2008


By Beauregard Tromp, Shaun Smillie and Solly Maphumulo

The remains of Mama Afrika will be returned to South Africa for her funeral service and cremation.

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The department of foreign affairs said on Tuesday morning that after consultations with the family, the process had got under way to fly Miriam Makeba's remains home.

Makeba's family said it had been her wish to be cremated.

"My grandmother wanted her ashes to be scattered at sea so that the currents could take them to all the places she had been to," said her granddaughter, Zenzi Mkhize.

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South Africa's ambassador to Italy, Lenin Shope, would help the family to get a health certificate and export permit from authorities in Rome to have her body brought home "hopefully by the end of the week", Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said.

He said the government had noted calls for Makeba to be given a state funeral, a decision that rested with President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Makeba died early on Monday, shortly after stepping off the stage at the Via Verde open-air theatre in southern Italy.

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From their seats, the audience still jived as the echoes of her signature Phatha Phatha carried her off-stage.

Then Makeba - for so long the embodiment of a continent's struggle for freedom - collapsed into the arms of longtime friend and promoter Roberto Meglioli.

After suffering a heart attack, she was taken to a nearby clinic and declared dead by doctors.

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"She had just finished singing Phatha Phatha when she had her first heart attack. They resuscitated her, but then she was gone," said Mkhize, adding that she had been told that Makeba had died with her grandson Lumumba at her side.

"People told me that she had a glow about her that night while she performed," said Mkhize.

Makeba had left for Europe a week ago. The concert was a fundraising show for the elderly.

"She had joked with us that the concert should have been billed as the elderly singing for the elderly," said Mkhize.

Throughout the day on Monday, people flocked to Makeba's home in Northriding, north of Joburg, to pay respects to the diva who had served South African music for more than half a century.

"She died having done the most beautiful things; she was the goddess of music and a monument of a human being," said singer Abigail Kubheka.

Others, like musician Victor Masondo, remembered the woman who would be waved through border posts, so well known even in Europe that she didn't have to produce her passport.

"I would sit by her feet, and she would want to know about people

I was seeing, and she really enjoyed her Sundays," said her friend Shanaaz Albertus.

In fact, one recent Sunday afternoons they had discussed the dresses they were to wear for a special concert for Makeba at Carnival City on

November 27.

She was to be the guest of honour, and a host of well-known female artists, including Kubheka, were to sing her songs. Organisers are unsure whether the concert will go ahead.

"She told us that Zenzi and I had to be her right-hand men, sitting on each side of her during the performance," said Albertus.

Tributes have been pouring in to honour this giant of the arts and in the fight against apartheid.

"Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years.

"At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us," said Nelson Mandela, who convinced Makeba to come home in 1990.

"It was fitting that her last moments were spent on-stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause."

Makeba, a UN goodwill ambassador, had spent her latter years highlighting the plight of the most vulnerable.

- Read the print edition of The Star for more Makeba stories

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