Woman breaks protocol at Union Buildings

The casket of the late former SA President Nelson Mandela arrives at the Union Buildings in Pretoria under the watchful eye of his grandson Mandla Mandela. 12/12/2013, Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

An elderly white woman broke protocol and walked over to where Inkosi Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela sat keeping vigil over the casket carrying the remains of his grandfather, former president Nelson Mandela, on Thursday.

She shook his hand and briefly spoke to him as he sat on the chair he has occupied since Mandela’s body first lay in state on Wednesday.

When she was done, she filed past the casket and wept.

A female police officer walked up to her and hugged her tightly.

“What’s going to become of us now? What’s going to become of us now that he is gone? What is going to become of this nation?” she asked as the policewoman comforted her.

Further away, Mandla sat in dignified silence, watching as people filed past the casket to pay their respects.

Back in May 1994, the eyes of the world were on Mandela right where he now lies in death, as he took the oath of office confirming him as South Africa’s first democratically-elected president.

On Wednesday, the world’s eyes were focused on the same spot where, 19 years ago Mandela told the world the sun would never set on South Africa’s glorious achievement of a peaceful transition to democracy.

Even though the sun has finally set on Mandela’s life, thousands of people from all races, young and old came out to pay their respects on Wednesday to the revered statesman.

They started queuing in the shadows of Pretoria’s famous Jacaranda trees at dawn, patiently awaiting their turn.

Some came hoisting the bright colours of the national flag, others dressed in the black, green and gold of the African National Congress.

Soldiers and aides assisted the wheelchair-bound and elderly to negotiate the long queues.

A woman walking with a limp, assisted by a relative, refused to be placed on a wheelchair after viewing Mandela’s body.

“Haaawu nkosi yaaaam, Uhambil’ uTata” (Oh My God, Tata is gone) sobbed an elderly woman, her shoulders draped in a shawl bearing a photograph of Mandela’s smiling face.

It was a scene that repeated itself several times in the morning, as civilians, police, army and dignitaries silently filed past the casket.

However, it seemed that even in death, Mandela had managed to unite and set South Africans on their best behaviour.

Many seemed to have responded to Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane’s call a day earlier, that they dress in a manner that showed respect to Mandela.

People filed past silently, their faces tense in anticipation of taking a last glimpse at the founding commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Others stood to attention to give a final salute and some simply bowed.

Yet many others raised their fists in the air, in the black power salute.

Parents carried their children to show them Mandela’s body.

Just after 8am, a silence fell over the imposing Union Buildings as the hearse carrying Mandela’s casket arrived behind a convoy of military police motorbikes.

SA Air Force soldiers and a military brass band formed a guard of honour.

Only the whirring of police helicopters circling the state building could be heard as pallbearers carried Mandelas’s body from the hearse.

A delegation of men from the Mandela clan, led by General Thanduxolo Mandela and Mandla Mandela, stood solemnly at the entrance to the amphitheatre.

At 8.17am, a chaplain led pallbearers, made up of officers from the navy, air force and army, up the stairs to where Mandela’s body would lie in state.

Behind them, a solemn Mandla followed, looking stoically ahead as generals, police officers and soldiers stood to attention.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, covered in a striped shawl, joined the procession.

The casket was placed on a specially-made table with Mandela’s head facing west, as a sign that he had passed from the light into the darkness.

Four navy officers in white uniforms, formed a guard of honour at opposite sides of the casket, not moving an inch.

Correctional Services Deputy Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi bowed. Former Cabinet minister and ANC veteran Zola Skweyiya gave a last salute.

Delegations from the governments of Malaysia, Cuba and Venezuela also paid their respects.

In a moving gesture, Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza handed over a golden sword to Mandla Mandela.


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