Many bid farewell in private rather than at public gatherings

Venues with big screens far from packed to capacity writes Bill Corcoran in Cape Town

A couple sit under an umbrella as they watch the funeral service for former South African president Nelson Mandela on a large screen television in Cape Town today. Photograph: Reuters

A couple sit under an umbrella as they watch the funeral service for former South African president Nelson Mandela on a large screen television in Cape Town today. Photograph: Reuters

 

After nine days of mass mourning it appeared many South Africans chose to bid the late Nelson Mandela, who was buried today, a final farewell in private rather than at public gatherings.

While numerous venues with big screens were set up to accommodate people who wanted to gather and watch the funeral proceedings at Mr Mandela’s home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, in many instances they were far from packed to capacity.

About 1,000 people turned up at 8am to watch the official special screening of Mr Mandela’s funeral outside Cape Town’s City Hall, and by the end of the five-hour long service that number had swelled to about 2,500.

Earlier in the week more than 50,000 people attended a memorial service at Cape Town Stadium in Greenpoint to say goodbye to the anti-apartheid icon, who died on December 5th, aged 95.

But according to Cape Town city spokeswoman Priya Reddy there was no expectation that a large crowd would turn up at City Hall – a historically significant location as Mr Mandela made his first public speech after being released from prison in 1990 – for yesterday’s funeral.

“We wanted to provide a place for people to come to, but we had no expectations in terms of numbers. It has been a very difficult week and people have come out in large numbers already. To some extent, it is a case of mourning fatigue and people have said their public goodbyes already.

“Today it seems people are saying their final goodbyes privately in their own homes while watching the service on television,” she said.

The mourners who did gather at City Hall waved flags provided by officials, and a few families watched the screenings from camping chairs. Others used concrete balls and milk crates as seats, or just sat on the ground.

The weather fluctuated from cold and cloudy, to rainy and then sunny, but Cameroonian Amye Elvis said the temperamental nature of the elements could not have kept him away.

“We came to pay our last respects, it’s the least we can do,” he said, adding he was not surprised by the turnout because it was “Sunday and many people will be mourning at churches or at home”.

The crowd that gathered at Orlando Stadium in Soweto was bigger than Cape Town’s, but also below the venue’s capacity.

Outside Mr Mandela’s house on Vilakazi Street in the same township near Johannesburg nothing official had been organised. A small group of people reportedly gathered outside the old Mandela residence singing songs as a way to pay their respects.

The Mail and Guardian newspaper reported that a big screen was set up to watch the funeral on a sports field in Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape, the village where Mandela was born.

Mvezo is only 22km from Qunu, but access to the village where the funeral was taking place was limited to guests.

“It was very painful to watch,” local Matuna Matuna told the newspaper. “It brought back memories of all the things he did. The man fought for us. We are free, thanks to him,” he said.