Pretoria : Foreign dignitaries on Wednesday joined South Africans, including relatives of Nelson Mandela, to pay respects to the anti-apartheid legend whose body was lying in state at the seat of government here.
A sombre mood prevailed as the leaders bowed and prayed and filed past the body of Mandela at the Unions Buildings, where he assumed charge as the country’s first black and freely elected president in 1994. Mandela died last Thursday at the age of 95.
Earlier in the day, crowds watched as motorcycle-riding policemen escorted the coffin from a military hospital mortuary to the Union Buildings.
Crowds cheered and sang as the convoy sped past. “Seeing him passing by was the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life. I just wanted to see him passing for the last time,” said one mourner.
In near silence, South African President Jacob Zuma and Mandela’s widow Graca Machel and former wife Winnie Mandela – both wearing black turbans – passed by as military honour guards dressed in white flanked the coffin on each end. F W de Klerk, the last apartheid era president who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe also passed by the casket.
Thousands of people were seen queing up on Wednesday to say goodbye to their Madiba, but the first day was reserved for family and dignitaries. The public will be allowed to file past his flag-draped casket tomorrow and Friday. Mandela’s funeral will take place at his ancestral village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province on Sunday. On Saturday, the body will be moved to Qunu, where he will be buried at 9 am on Sunday.
The actual funeral will not be broadcast following a request from the family, said government spokesperson Phumla Williams.