Tens of thousands of mourners, some breaking through police barriers, flocked to South Africa’s central government buildings yesterday to say a personal goodbye Nelson Mandela on the final day of his lying in state.
Such was the crush of people wanting to see Mandela’s body in the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria, that the government had asked others to stay away from the park-and- ride facilities set up to take mourners to the area.
“We cannot guarantee that every person who is presently in the queues at the various centres will be given access to the Union Buildings,” the government said in a statement. At least 50,000 people were waiting at park-and-ride points by early Thursday morning.
There were moments of tension as police tried to turn mourners away. At the Pretoria Showgrounds, one of the park-and-ride gathering points, the crowd broke through the metal entrance gate when officers tried to stop people coming through. Some fell to the ground and hundreds streamed past before order was restored.
On another access road, police had to force back people trying to break through crowd barriers.
“I am really angry, we tried for two days now to see Mr Mandela and thank him for changing this country and bringing us together. Now we have to go home with heavy hearts,” said Ilse Steyn of Pretoria.
Queues snaked for kilometres from the government site perched on a hill overlooking the city, well into the heart of the capital.
The body of South Africa’s first black president was lying in state for a third and final day before being flown today to the Eastern Cape for a funeral on tomorrow at his ancestral home in Qunu, 700km south of Johannesburg. Mandela died last week aged 95.
“I don’t mind waiting, today is the last day and I must say thank you. I am who I am and where I am because of this man,” said Johannesburg resident Elsie Nkuna, who said she had taken two days off work to see Mandela.
Filing past the coffin, some pausing to bow, mourners viewed the body laid out in a green and gold batik shirt, a style that he wore and had made famous.
Yesterday, his grandchild Mandla sat beside the coffin, acknowledging mourners with smiles.
In the heat of the South African summer, army chaplains and medics handed out bottles of water and sachets of tissues.
The huge turnout surpassed the two previous days by far. About 21,000 people paid their last respects on Wednesday and 39,000 on Thursday.
The Qunu event will combine military pomp with traditional burial rituals of Mandela’s Xhosa clan.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved