Nelson Mandela dies: South Africans pay tribute

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Manju Shukla
Date   6 Dec. 2013

Nelson Mandela dies: South Africans pay tribute to former leader

South Africans have woken up to a future without Nelson Mandela, the nation`s first black president, who died after a year-long battle with a lung infection.

As dawn broke and commuters headed to work in the capital Pretoria, the commercial hub Johannesburg, and Cape Town in the south, many were still in shock at the passing of the 95-year-old, who was a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

South Africans heard president Jacob Zuma tell them the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate passed away peacefully at his Johannesburg home in the company of his family after a long illness.

"Our nation has lost its greatest son, our people have lost a father," he said.

Despite reassurances from leaders and public figures that Mandela`s passing, while sorrowful, would not halt South Africa`s advance away from its bitter apartheid past, some still expressed a sense of unease about the physical absence of a man famed as a peacemaker.

An avalanche of tributes continued to pour in for Mandela, who had been ailing for nearly a year with a recurring lung illness dating back to the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails, including the notorious Robben Island penal colony.

US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron were among world leaders and dignitaries who paid fulsome tribute to Mandela as a moral giant and exemplary beacon for the world.

American talk show host Oprah Winfrey added her voice to the tributes, saying Mandela "will always be my hero".

"His life was a gift to us all," she said in a statement.

Mandla Mandela expressed gratitude for the global outpouring of support since his grandfather`s death, saying his family had been "overwhelmed" by the response.

"The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us," he said in the first public comment from the former president`s family since his death.

But for South Africa, the loss of its most beloved leader comes at a time when the nation, which basked in global goodwill after apartheid ended, has been experiencing bloody labour unrest, growing protests against poor services, poverty, crime and unemployment and corruption scandals tainting Mr Zuma`s rule.

Mandela dreamt of a `rainbow nation` of peace and prosperity

Many see today`s South Africa - the African continent`s biggest economy but also one of the world`s most unequal - still distant from Mandela`s ideal of a "Rainbow Nation" of social peace and shared prosperity that he proclaimed on his release from prison in 1990.

Flags flew at half mast across the country and Mr Zuma has announced a full state funeral for Mandela, who emerged from prison to help guide the country through bloodshed and turmoil to democracy.

Just hours after the news of Mandela`s death, one of his veteran anti-apartheid comrades, former archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, sought to assuage fears the revered statesman`s absence could revive some of the violent ghosts of apartheid.

"To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames - as some have predicted - is to discredit South Africans and Madiba`s legacy," he said in a reassuring statement.

"The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next... It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on."

Mandela was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 after helping to steer the racially divided country towards reconciliation and away from civil war.

FW de Klerk, the white Afrikaner president who released Mandela in 1990, said Mandela brought the nation together.

"His greatest legacy is that we are basically at peace with each other," he told the BBC in an interview.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honour he shared with Mr de Klerk.

Sowetans sing, dance in tributes outside Mandela`s former home

Residents of Soweto, the bedrock of black resistance against apartheid rule, sang and danced as they paid respect outside Mandela`s former home.

A small crowd of admirers, some dressed in the ruling ANC party`s yellow T-shirts, lay flowers outside Mandela`s former residence, which is now a museum and a popular tourist attraction.

The mourners cheered and danced as music blared from a nearby car stereo in a celebration of the revered statesman`s life.

Mandela lived in the Soweto house with then-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela before he went underground in the early 1960s while campaigning against apartheid.

On his release after 27 years in prison, Mandela briefly returned to the house in Vilakazi Street, in the blacks-only area`s Orlando suburb.

He spent the final years of his life living in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.

Many Soweto mourners said they had dreaded the inevitable, though the ailing statesman`s poor health in recent years had prepared many for his approaching death.

"Over 95 years, it`s not child`s play. We dreaded this day when the gentle giant was going to die," said Sifisi Mnisi, who scribbled messages on his car honouring the "father of the nation".

"My Black President", "You fought against black and white domination, dankie (thank you) son", were some of the tributes he wrote in black and red markers.

Beautician Cynthia Mmusi, 35, kept vigil outside the house through the night and said she would dedicate the coming weeks to Mandela`s memory.

"We are what we are because of Tata. He meant everything to us," she said, using a term of endearment for Mandela that means father.

"He was like a father to all of us. We are going to celebrate his life the whole of December."


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