Supporters of Nelson Mandela are not just congregating around the hospital where he is being treated, they are also making the trip to the house where he once lived – now a museum – in Soweto.
South Africa's schoolchildren may be on their on summer holidays, but several school classes were thronging the narrow court yard of 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West in Soweto. The black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg was at the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle.
The children, full of awe and unusually quiet, allow themselves to be counted - to check that nobody has gone missing - and then fall in behind the museum guide at Mandela House. The anti-apartheid icon lived here for 15 years. The children have already prepared for the visit in class.
"The fact that he's in hospital, we decided on an outing during the holidays to his house," their teacher told DW. And what did Nelson Mandela mean to the children? "He set us free and we want to say that we love him" said one child. "He's my hero because he fought for freedom," said another. "I hope he gets better," chimed in yet another.
Moved on after 11 days
Jane Monakwane is the museum guide. "This is where he used to live before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason," she explains, clearly proud at being able to show visitors from around the world – including a group of Japanese – Mandela House. A steady stream of buses are parking in Vilakazi Street with its many restaurants and souvenir shops. Monakwane said school groups are coming to honor Mandela while he is still alive. "We are very, very busy," she told DW.
The bed in the bedroom attracts considerable interest among visitors because it appears rather narrow for Mandela, who was once a broad-shouldered boxer. The room's contents are approximately what the world's most famous prisoner found himself confronted with on his release from prison in 1990. As Monakwane explained, after 27 years in prison, Mandela didn't realize how famous he had become. "He returned here, but only stayed here for 11 days. The press was here every day, so he moved on."
Brian, one of the visitors to the museum, told DW he was supposed to be in a business meeting on Thursday, but decided to come to Soweto instead."I think everyone's paying their respects to Mandela, because he was a recognized person of peace and very keen to get equality. I think we all send our thoughts and prayers to his family," he said.
Germans honor freedom icon
German tourists are also among the visitors. Jochen from Karlsruhe is on a two week tour of South Africa. "History is being made in South Africa," he said. "I do hope he (Mandela) doesn't suffer."
Herbert Ndumo is selling souvenirs not far from number 8115, as he does every morning. But the stream of tourists descending on Vilakazi Street isn't bringing him any extra trade. "I don't see any change," he said.
Perhaps Gisela, a tourist from northern Germany, could help liven up business. She has read up extensively on South Africa and when she spoke to DW she was about to visit Robben Island were Mandela was imprisoned. "If he really is very ill and suffering badly, then (death) would release him," she said. Not far away is an advert for Johnny Walker. "Keep Walking," it reads and could almost be a message for Mandela who turns 95 on July 18.
Television cameras have been in position opposite Mandela House for months. Media outlets are paying huge sums – at least by local standards - in rent for the use of a garage or a room. "I can imagine chaos breaking out when Mandela dies," said Gisela pensively.