Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Pretoria from as early as 4am, for a chance to catch a last glimpse of their hero. Dressed in colourful attire, in hats and scarves, and holding banners that paid homage to South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, many waited for seven hours to catch a final glimpse of the late leader. The queue snaked slowly through the streets of the South African capital under an unrelenting sun, reaching the Union Buildings, where Mandela’s body is “laying in state” until Friday.
Few, however, seemed to mind the wait. And they were at last rewarded with a sight of Mandela.
Unlike the memorials that are currently being held in churches and at stadiums across the country, there was little singing and dancing around the Union Buildings; just throngs of people patiently waiting for their turn to walk by Mandela’s cherished body.
One woman, with a tattoo of Madiba on her left arm, said that waiting in line for seven hours was a small price to pay for a man who sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison for the country. Another gentleman who traveled from the Limpopo province described Mandela’s contribution as “extraordinary” and said he had come to pay his last respects. Two women, of the “born free” generation, as South Africans born after 1994 are known, said they wanted to show gratitude for the freedom Mandela had secured for them.
The event was dignified, with most police officers showing exemplary consideration in making sure the public was not herded like cattle as they would ordinarily experience in all such encounters with the state.
It was colourful with the informality of Madiba shining through the variety of fashion worn by the thousands in attendance.
It was also a simple experience, just as Madiba would have liked it.
Al Jazeera captures some of the images that defined the day.