A Mix Of Joy, Sadness: South Africans Mourn, Celebrate Mandela
As sun rose over South Africa, today, the country began to come to terms with the loss of Nelson Mandela, who President Jacob Zuma called the father of the nation.
As The New York Times correspondent Lydia Polgreen told Morning Edition, South Africans settled on the news with a mixture of "grief and joy." Like they had done since Mandela got sick in July, they gathered in front of his home in Johannesburg's northern suburb of Houghton to pay their respects.
It was unseasonably chilly morning, but South Africans sang joyfully in "praise of the name of Nelson Mandela," Polgreen said.
News 24 from Johannesburg spoke to Khumo Mokwena, who woke up early to come to Mandela's home with her baby.
"I had to wake up and come here," she said. "This was expected, but now that it is happening, it is actually unbelievable."
South Africa has declared 10 days of mourning and across the globe, government buildings have lowered their flags to half staff. The Eiffel Tower in Paris has been lit up the colors of the South African flag. In Washington, mourners gathered on the grounds of the South African embassy, and laid flowers in front of a triumphant statue of Mandela.
That embassy, reports NPR member station WAMU, was the site of many protests through the 80s, demanding the U.S. impose sanctions on South Africa until they freed Mandela and ended the brutal practice of racial segregation called apartheid.
"I'm just glad we were able to see Nelson Mandela walk out of prison, be elected president," Cecelie Count told WAMU.
Polgreen says that to get an idea of what Mandela's funeral will be like, you'd have to look back at the funeral of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
"Mandela was universally beloved," Polgreen said. It's likely all the living U.S. presidents will be present as well as a health congressional delegation. Once you multiply that across the globe, it will be a stunning group of people.
When Zuma called Mandela the father of South Africa, that isn't an exaggeration, said Polgreen. It was Mandela, after all, who left prison in 1990 and instead of bitterly fighting the regime that held him there for 27 years, he preached reconciliation. After he became president in 1994, he left office after one term, laying the groundwork for a healthy democracy that's thriving until this day.
Polgreen says Mandela's funeral may resemble that historic day in 1994, when millions of South Africans lined up to vote for the first time — to vote for Mandela.