, PRETORIA, Dec 13 – Hundreds of South Africans broke through a police cordon on Friday in a last-gasp bid to join the estimated 100,000 people who viewed Nelson Mandela’s remains during three days of lying in state.
The group pushed past officers moments before the casket was closed and Mandela began his final journey back to his childhood home of Qunu, where he will be buried on Sunday.
Crushing disappointment tainted the final day of the lying in state, with tens of thousands of mourners unable to say their personal farewell to the anti-apartheid icon.
Barely two hours after the public was allowed in to view the open-top casket, the government said it would be unable to accommodate the huge numbers still waiting and appealed for people to stay away.
Many had camped out to secure an early place in the queue, but as of 7:30 am (0530 GMT) there were already 50,000 waiting for buses to the Union Buildings – the seat of government where the coffin has been laid out for three days.
By early afternoon, it was clear that most would never get inside, and people started leaving in sad, dejected droves – many of them having already been turned away the day before.
“We really thought this was the day. But again we did not get to see the old man,” said Lydia More, 31, who got in line at 7am.
“We just feel empty. It’s so sad,” she said.
The South African government said a total of 100,000 people saw Mandela’s remains during the three days his body lay in state.
“The third day closed with over 50,000 paying their respects to our national icon,” the government, adding to previous tallies.
Tempers frayed at one of the waiting venues, with mourners pushing back against police who tried to get them to go home.
“It’s just not possible,” said one police officer who declined to be named. “There are too many people. The whole of the Republic of South Africa wants to say goodbye.”
For those who did manage to enter the venue, the last glimpse of Mandela prompted powerful feelings.