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South Africa grapples with Mandela's departure

Thuso Khumalo / mc December 7, 2013

South Africans have been mourning the death of their first black president, describing his demise as a great and sad loss for South Africa and the rest of the world.

Stimmen und Reaktionen zum Tod Nelson Mandelas
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville

"Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation has departed."

With these words President Jacob Zuma announced the death of the Nobel Peace laureate and anti-apartheid icon on Thursday night. "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father," he added.

Zuma declared there would be a state funeral for Mandela - now set for December 15 - and he urged South Africans not to rest "until we have realized his vision of a truly united South Africa, a peaceful and prosperous Africa, a better world."

Zuma later announced that a memorial service would be held at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium – the site of the 2010 World Cup final – on December 10.

'We don't want any disasters in this country'

South Africans from all walks of life expressed their sadness at Mandela's death. Many of them started gathering outside his Johannesburg home just after midnight. 35-year-old Tumi Molotsi was one of the first to arrive. He told DW he was shocked by Mandela's death.

Eröffnung des Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory in Johannesburg, Südafrika
South Africa started appraising Mandela's legacy during his lifetimeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"It's like I'm losing my father, or my so-called relative, it was very painful. I'm just praying hard that the country must just unite. We don't want any disasters in this country," he said.

34-year-old Evelyn Lebethe brought her two young daughters to the gate of Mandela's Johannesburg home at 5:30 a.m on Friday. Close to tears, she had this to say about his death after the months he had spent in hospital. "I think at one stage we were prepared, but this time we were not prepared."

'Mandela was the only one who kept things together'

Despite reassurances from public figures that Mandela's passing, while sorrowful, would not halt South Africa's advance away from its apartheid past, there were those who expressed unease about the absence of a man famed as a peacemaker.

"It's not going to be good, hey! I think it's going to become a more racist country. People will turn on each other and chase foreigners away," said 28-year-old Sharon Qubeka, a secretary from Tembisa township. "Mandela was the only one who kept things together," she said.

Flags flew at half mast across the country, and trade was halted for five minutes on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

But the mood was not all somber. During the day hundreds filled the streets around Mandela's home, many singing songs of tribute and dancing. The crowd included toddlers carrying flowers, domestic workers still in uniform and businessmen in suits.