This content is not available in your region

South Africa: crowds mourn Nelson Mandela's death and celebrate his life

South Africa: crowds mourn Nelson Mandela's death and celebrate his life
Text size Aa Aa

South Africans are contemplating a future without Nelson Mandela after the death of the country’s first black president who led the struggle against apartheid.

The day has seen more and more people gathering at the family home in Johannesburg where he died aged 95 in the company of his family after a long illness.

“It’s a sad day in South Africa, I must say, we’ve lost a great role model, really. But I think the greatest thing is that at least his legacy, you know, will live on,” said a local woman, Shandu Lukoto.

“He spent 27 years in prison, you know, just to give to the people of South Africa, what freedom means,” said a male resident, Gcina Dlanjwa.

“It’s a pretty sad day, I mean, we’re lucky to be in an area where there’s been such a great man who had so much forgiveness and compassion,” another man, Jamie Alexander, added.

In Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a friend of Mandela and a fellow Nobel prize winner, led a service of remembrance.

All over South Africa and beyond people have been gathering to celebrate the life of the man who oversaw the end of white minority rule and symbolised reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

“Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rohlihla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed,” President Jacob Zuma said in a nationally televised address:

“Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity, earned him their love,” he added.

Mandela would receive a full state funeral, Zuma said, ordering flags to be flown at half mast.

Mandela rose from rural obscurity to challenge the might of white minority apartheid government – a struggle that gave the 20th century one of its most respected and loved figures.

He was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid in 1960, but was quick to preach reconciliation and forgiveness when the country’s white minority began easing its grip on power 30 years later.

Mandela was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 and retired in 1999.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, an honour he shared with F.W. de Klerk, the white Afrikaner leader who released from jail arguably the world’s most famous political

As president, Mandela faced the monumental task of forging a new nation from the deep racial injustices left over from the apartheid era, making reconciliation the theme of his time in office.

The hallmark of Mandela’s mission was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which probed apartheid crimes on both sides of the struggle and tried to heal the country’s wounds. It also provided a model for other countries torn by civil strife.

In 1999, Mandela handed over power to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy – a rare voluntary departure from power cited as an example to African leaders.

In retirement, he shifted his energies to battling South Africa’s AIDS crisis and the struggle became personal when he lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005.

Mandela’s last major appearance on the global stage came in 2010 when he attended the championship match of the soccer World Cup, where he received a thunderous ovation from the 90,000 at the stadium in Soweto, the neighbourhood in which he cut his teeth as a resistance leader.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he said.

From prisoner under apartheid to world statesman, Mandela’s death enables South Africans to take stock of the decades of momentous change he did so much to bring about.