Tens of thousands of mourners, some breaking through police barriers, have flocked to South Africa’s central government buildings to say a personal goodbye to anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on the final day of his lying in state.
About 100,000 mourners have paid homage to the former president, a global symbol of reconciliation, over the course of the three days with more than 50,000 paying their respects on Friday, the government said in a statement.
“It’s almost impossible that all of them will go through,” government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said. “The volumes are just huge.”
There were moments of tension on Friday, as police were forced to turn some people away.
At the Pretoria Showgrounds, one of the park-and-ride points, the crowd broke through the metal entrance gate when officers tried to stop people coming through. Some fell to the ground and hundreds streamed past before order was restored.
On another access road, police had to force back people trying to break through crowd barriers.
The day ended without further incident as the body of South Africa’s first black president, who died last week aged 95, was moved by police motorcade back to the country’s main military hospital for a final night.
Funeral in Qunu
On Saturday, his body will be flown to the Eastern Cape province for a funeral on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu, 700km south of Johannesburg.
Winding queues had snaked for kilometres from the government site perched on a hill overlooking the city, well into the heart of the capital.
“I don’t mind waiting, today is the last day and I must say thank you. I am who I am and where I am because of this man,” said Johannesburg resident Elsie Nkuna, who said she had taken two days off work to see Mandela.
Filing past the coffin, some pausing to bow, mourners viewed the body laid out in a green and gold batik shirt, a style that he wore and had made famous. His face was visible.
In the heat of the South African summer, army chaplains and medics handed out bottles of water and sachets of tissues.
Some people had been queuing since Thursday.
“We were hungry and thirsty and did not have money for food. The thought that I must be here to pay respect kept me going,” said Leena Mazubiko, who had travelled from eastern Mpumalanga province.
Swaziland memorial broken up
In South Africa’s small neighbour Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, pro-democracy activists said police on Friday broke up a Mandela memorial service at a Lutheran church in the commercial capital of Manzini.
“The police stormed the venue and broke up the memorial and everyone was told to go home,” said Lucky Lukhele, the spokesman for the Johannesburg-based Swaziland Solidarity Network. Swazi police could not be reached for comment.
The week of mourning since Mandela’s death on December 5 has seen an unrivalled outpouring of emotion for the statesman and Nobel peace laureate, who was honoured by a host of world leaders at a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.