Residents of Soweto, the bedrock of black resistance against apartheid rule, sang and danced as they paid their respects to the late peace icon Nelson Mandela outside his former home on Friday.
A small crowd of admirers, some dressed in the ruling ANC party’s yellow t-shirts, braved an unseasonal chilly summer morning to lay flowers outside Mandela’s former residence, which is now a museum and a popular tourist attraction.
At times the mourners spontaneously burst into song, cheering and dancing as music blared from a nearby car stereo in a celebration of the revered statesman’s life.
“A life well lived,” said 38-year-old doctor Mahlodi Tau, remembering her hero.
“He has finished the race and he fought a good fight,” she said, still dressed in her running slacks, quoting the apostle Paul from the Bible.
Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president after battling white-minority apartheid, died late on Thursday following a protracted lung infection.
He lived in the Soweto house with then-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela before he went underground in the early 1960s.
On his release after 27 years in prison he briefly returned to the house in Vilakazi Street, in the blacks-only area’s Orlando suburb.
The Nobel peace laureate 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, 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,” said Mmusi, after keeping vigil outside the house throughout the night with her three-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.
“There is no need to cry, we are celebrating,” added Dean Gulwa, a member of the South African Communist party, which is in a ruling alliance with Mandela’s ANC.