Mourners from Nigeria, sing outside the home of former president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Along a street
lined with walled mansions shaded by graceful jacaranda trees, mourners
black and white by the thousands rubbed shoulders Monday outside the
villa where Nelson Mandela died, placing flower bouquets and condolence
notes on top of piles already knee-high. Others danced while singing
praise for the anti-apartheid leader _ a vivid example of the “Rainbow
Nation” unity of race-blind multiculturalism championed by Mandela for
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Along a street lined with walled
mansions shaded by graceful jacaranda trees, mourners, black and white,
by the thousands rubbed shoulders Monday outside the villa where Nelson
Mandela died, placing flower bouquets and condolence notes on top of
piles already knee-high. Others danced while singing praise for the
anti-apartheid leader — a vivid example of the "Rainbow Nation" unity of
race-blind multiculturalism championed by Mandela for South Africa.
As players for the nation's top Kaiser Chiefs
soccer team were escorted inside the villa in one of the city's most
exclusive neighborhoods to grieve with Mandela's relatives, hospital
receptionist Nelson Jabulani Dube said the crowd of black, white and
mixed race mourners transforming a street corner into a makeshift shrine
was evidence that Mandela succeeded in breaking down barriers in a
country defined for generations by race-based hate.
"It's all because of him, because he forgave the enemies at that
time, they no longer are the enemies," said Dube, 33. "For me the
outcome is really stunning and unites us, and what you see here is a
reflection of that."
Michele Marija, an elderly white Johannesburg
resident, spontaneously hugged a black woman, calling her "my sister,"
after the woman made space for her so she could get a better view of the
shrine. Then Marija's daughters also hugged the woman.
Marija insisted that her daughters and
granddaughters visit Mandela's house, saying his decision to forgive his
white oppressors after being released from 27 years in jail saved South
Africa from brutal bloodshed.
"We could easily have had a revolution and here we
are now all living happily together which is something like a miracle
and it's all due to Madiba," Marija said, referring to Mandela by his
Diane Mathabatha, a 60-year-old member of Mandela's
Xhosa tribe visiting Mandela's house with her grandsons, remembered in
the 1990s being bent on revenge along with much of her generation until
Mandela got out of prison and said that would be wrong.
"He came out and embraced everybody and taught us
that, you know, sometimes with your enemy, when you bring him closer,
it's much better than fighting him," Mathabatha said. Mncedisi Xego,
related to Mathabatha by marriage, came to the shrine with his wife
Lesley, who is white, and their children. Their 9-year marriage wouldn't
exist without Mandela, he said, adding that their children needed to
see the shrine.
"It was very important for them to come and say
'thank you' to Mandela because today, they can have the kind of
lifestyle that they chose," Xego said. "There are no restrictions in
terms of where they can go, which schools they can go to, whom they can
be friends with, who they can marry."
As mourners danced in a circle singing "Mandiba,
you are the holy man" in the Sesotho language, retired white school
principal Johann Nel struck up a conversation with 29-year-old medical
salesman Ricardo Louw, recounting how he managed to keep his marriage to
his black wife Maria secret during apartheid.
Nel and his wife Maria married in Swaziland because
apartheid prohibited mixed marriages. She went to live in Mozambique,
and he drove there weekends to visit. They went on to have two children,
but in 1975 worried that he wouldn't be able to visit anymore as
Mozambique neared independence from Portugal.
So they decided to smuggle her and the children
back into South Africa so they could live separately, but secretly visit
each other. To make it by South African border police, Maria Nel got
out of the car and walked through on her own since she would have been
prevented from entering with her husband. He laid down their baby boy on
the floor of the passenger seat covered with newspapers and had their
3-year-old son lie on back seat covered with a jacket and clothes.
Johann Nel cracked his window to slip paperwork to
the border control police stating he was the only person in the car,
praying the officer wouldn't demand to look under the newspapers or the
"But it was as if God had blinded that policeman's
eyes," he said. The officer waved him through and he reunited down the
road with his wife. They lived separately in secret until they could
finally be together as a family until more than a decade later.
Louw, who is black and has a white girlfriend,
listened in awe and then said that Mandela's work and legacy "spared us
those kind of frustrations." "She says if it wasn't for this man we
wouldn't be together," Louw said.
But some South Africans who came to pay their
respect outside Mandela's home said the gathering was meaningful but a
rare kind of event in the country. Yvette Babb, a 30-year-old white
economist who decided with her work companions to do a jog by the house
during their lunch break, said the last time she has seen something
similar was when the country banded together as one during the 2010
World Cup. "It's something we don't experience often enough."