UK & World News

  • 7 December 2013, 14:25

Nelson Mandela: Soweto Salutes Its Hero

South Africans have united in mourning for Nelson Mandela, with many celebrating the anti-apartheid hero's life in an eruption of song, dance and tears.

Soweto has barely slept since the announcement of Mr Mandela's death on Thursday.

The township near Johannesburg which was famed as the frontline of the battle against apartheid, is once again echoing to the sound of struggle songs as the people celebrate the life of its most famous resident.

"Without him I wouldn't be living the life I have today, I just hope he's looking down and watching us, because all of this is for him," one man said.

Vilakazi Street, where Mr Mandela lived in a tiny house with his then wife Winnie just before he went underground in the early 1960s, is the focal point of the tributes.

Hundreds of South Africans, many of them wearing the bright yellow T-shirts of the African National Congress, have been dancing and singing in scenes reminiscent of the jubilation that marked Mr Mandela's release from jail.

This time they have come to say goodbye to the man who changed so many millions of lives.

"I remember when I was young we weren't allowed to say his name or we'd be arrested," Bongi, a mother-of-two, said.

"I knew he was fighting for us," she said.

The ANC has set up a stage in the street, with local politicians leading the tributes and the singing.

Cries of "Viva Mandela" end every speech.

The party Mr Mandela led is keen to claim ownership of the icon's legacy, ahead of national elections next year.

"We need to keep on his path," Sipho Madeke, a resident of the township, said.

Outside Mr Mandela's former home, number 8115 Vilakazi street, people pose for photos next to the growing pile of cards and flowers.

The house is now a museum and attracts thousands of tourists every year.

Groups of young children have joined the celebrations in a sign of Mr Mandela's enduring appeal.

Eight-year-old Nomsa told me she wanted to "thank Nelson Mandela for saving the whole world".

Soweto is proud of its place in the history of the apartheid struggle.

It was here that in 1976 the student uprising, and the violent response of the white government, forced the world to take notice of the brutality of minority rule.

But the township is prouder still of its place in the remarkable story of Mr Mandela, as the home he longed for during his 27 years in jail.

In death as in life he has inspired people to come together with a determination to build a better South Africa.

"We know there is far to go, but we will continue his journey," one man said.

There have also been colourful scenes of singing and dancing outside Mr Mandela's Johannesburg home, where he spent the last months of his life.

Earlier, President Jacob Zuma visited the house in the Houghton district of the city to offer his condolences to the Mandela family.

Mr Zuma announced on Friday a schedule of ceremonies during a week of national mourning that will include a memorial service on Tuesday at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium where Mr Mandela made his last public appearance in 2010 at the closing ceremony of the football World Cup.

Mr Mandela's body will lie in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday.

He will be buried in his childhood village of Qunu on Sunday, December 15 after a state funeral which is expected to draw huge numbers of world leaders and dignitaries. US President Barack Obama has already said he will be attending.

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