PRETORIA: Thousands of people queued Wednesday to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, whose body lay in state in Pretoria in the building where he was inaugurated in 1994 as South Africa’s first black president.
Several people fainted in the stifling heat as South Africans waited their turn to file past Mandela’s casket after family members, foreign dignitaries and celebrities paid their respects at the imposing Union Buildings.
By afternoon the heat and lack of access to water and toilets caused several people to pass out and tempers to fray as mourners waited in line for their last chance to see the man regarded as the father of democratic South Africa.
“There’s a 5,000-strong crowd here. There’s not one mobile toilet, no water, there’s nothing for the people. People are becoming upset and frustrated,” said Ronelle Johnson-Hoskins, who had been queuing since morning.
Mourners were also turned away if they did not have an identity document, she said, something they did not know they needed.
Any perception that the government had mismanaged the logistics of Mandela’s lying in state could further infuriate South Africans, a day after President Jacob Zuma was humiliated by boos and jeers at the memorial ceremony.
Mandela’s death Thursday at the age of 95 has brought an outpouring of grief and mourning in the country he led as president from 1994 to 1999, as well as celebration for his achievements.
Earlier thousands of people lined the streets as the black hearse carrying Mandela’s coffin wound its way to the official seat of government from the capital’s main military hospital.
Among the first to file past Mandela’s casket were singer Bono, model Naomi Campbell and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, appeared to wipe away a tear as he passed the coffin.
“I want to see him. Even if I have to stand here for three hours, I want to see him. It’s my last chance,” said Habib Urehem, 66, a teacher of Islam.
In Pretoria, the mood was more somber than jubilant, a marked departure from Tuesday’s memorial in Soweto, where the crowd danced and sang in the rain to honor Mandela’s memory and booed and jeered Zuma.
Mandela’s death has diverted attention from corruption scandals in Zuma’s administration, but it has also underscored the gulf between South Africa’s first black president, a towering figure of the 20th century, and its fourth.
Zuma’s five years in office have been marked by scandal, feeble economic growth and social and labor unrest.
Although South Africa has been transformed since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, it remains one of the world’s most unequal societies, plagued by poverty and crime.
Mandela will be buried Sunday in Qunu, his ancestral home in the rural Eastern Cape province, 700 km south of Johannesburg.
The village was blanketed in thick mist Wednesday, and the heavy rain had churned up mud roads, making them difficult for vehicles to negotiate.
But while the weather could cause headaches for the organizers, many South Africans were smiling. Tradition has it that heavy rain is a blessing, a sign of an esteemed leader being welcomed into the afterlife by his ancestors.
Separately, burglars broke into the Cape Town home of Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu while he was in Johannesburg to attend the memorial service for Mandela, a Tutu family spokesman said Wednesday.
It was the second time in several months that his home has been broken into. South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates.