Thousands of people queued on Wednesday to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, whose body was lying in state in Pretoria in the building where the anti-apartheid hero was inaugurated in 1994 as South Africa’s first black president.
Foreign dignitaries and celebrities joined thousands of South Africans at the imposing Union Buildings, perched on a hill overlooking Pretoria, for a last chance to see the body of the man regarded as the father of democratic South Africa. Some carried infants on their backs.
Mandela’s flag-draped casket was met by officers representing branches of the military on arrival from the capital’s main military hospital, in a formal ceremony that contrasted with Tuesday’s memorial.
Thousands of mourners lined the streets as the black hearse, led by a procession of police motorcycles, wound its way to the official seat of government.
Mandela’s death on Thursday at the age of 95 has brought an outpouring of grief and mourning in the country he led as president from 1994 to 1999, as well as celebration and thanksgiving for his life and achievements.
“This is a significant moment for me and my children,” said teacher Thapelo Dlamini, 48, who had been waiting on the street for two hours with his two children.
Traffic in Pretoria was gridlocked from early morning and shops along the procession route were closed.
The Nobel Peace laureate will be buried on Sunday in Qunu, his ancestral home in the rural Eastern Cape province, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg.
Among those filing past Mandela’s casket were singer Bono, model Naomi Campbell and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, appeared to wipe away a tear as he passed the coffin.
“I want to see him. Even if I have to stand here for three hours, I want to see him. It’s my last chance,” said Habib Urehem, 66, a teacher of Islam.
The mood was more somber than jubilant, a marked departure from Tuesday’s memorial in Soweto, where the crowd danced and sang in the rain to honor Mandela’s memory and booed and jeered President Jacob Zuma.
Mandela’s death has diverted attention from a raft of corruption scandals in Zuma’s administration, but it has also underscored the gulf between South Africa’s first black president and its fourth.
Although South African newspapers flayed Zuma on Wednesday, they also reprimanded the crowd for booing during the service to commemorate a man famed for his ability to reconcile and forgive former enemies.
The Star, Johannesburg’s main daily newspaper, ran “Zuma’s Humiliation” as its headline.
The Times newspaper said: “It is a pity that, on the day the world came together to pay homage to Nelson Mandela, large sections of the crowd at the official memorial service heckled and booed President Jacob Zuma.
“Not because our scandal-prone, often bumbling, president doesn’t deserve it – he manifestly does.”
The heckling of Zuma is a worrying sign for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it heads for polls next year. But having won nearly 66 percent of the vote in 2009, the ANC is unlikely to lose its majority next year.
Zuma’s five years in office have been marked by scandal, feeble economic growth and social and labor unrest.