Some were singing and dan-cing while others reminisced about the past.
Galiep Goliath had caught a bus from Durban to Pretoria the night before. “I knew I had to come to say goodbye. I met Madiba in 1987 in a mosque. I was little and he inspired me, but I needed to see him again,” he said.
A group of elderly woman sat on the grass in their ANC Women’s League uniforms. One of them, 94-year-old Martha Muothe, tra-velled alone from Mamelodi to bid a final farewell to the man who was only one year her senior.
Muothe said she had been a member of the ANC Women’s League since she could remember. She spoke of the children she had outlived and the loss of Nelson Mandela.
Lydia Mokhotho, a 70-year-old, said she remembered “too much of apartheid”.
“I can remember not even being able to walk on the same sidewalk as whites or eat from the same plate.”
She really detested having to have her pass with her at all times. “I wore mine around my neck – and it never went with what I was wearing,” she said with a smile.
People cheered and sang freedom songs en route to the Union Buildings, but the mood changed as the bus entered the gates.
Old and young people from different cultures and backgrounds formed a single line winding up the steps.
One elderly woman was close to tears from exhaustion, but soldiers and police quickly organised a wheelchair and water for her.
Four servicemen in white uniforms guarded the former president’s casket. The public filed past in two lines, some stopping and taking a look at the face of the former leader. No one talks, no one pulls out a camera.
Those who burst into tears are consoled by the men and women in uniform. One elderly woman in an ANC beret was crying uncontrollably, hyperventilating. A young soldier went on his knees in front of her and said in isiZulu: “Deep breaths, gogo, take it easy…”
The 75-year-old Rob Hall says he grew up in the age when Nelson Mandela was feared. “Looking back now I realise what a man he was if he could come out of jail and forgive. I don’t think I would have been able to do that.”
Hall was selling black ribbons in honour of the man he previously believed to be a terrorist.
A paramedic, Mbongeni Mtimkulu, said he was not only there to honour Madiba but also to make sure that the crowds are attended to, even though he was not officially on duty. “Madiba saved a nation, I just want to save some lives.
An Afrikaans father, Reynie Barnard, and his two sons were each holding a flower as Mandela’s hearse passed.
“He did not hold a grudge against the Afrikaner,” he said.