SOWETO, South Africa – Enduring a day-long downpour, tens of thousands of South Africans took up the torch carried by their nation’s founding father Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, December 10, passionately endorsing calls to perfect his Rainbow Nation.
Because of torrential rain and confusion over logistics, the vast canopy of umbrellas in the stadium alternated with blocks of empty orange seats, but for those who did attend, it was a historic and poignant day.
Bin-bag ponchos and a sliver of the same unwavering determination that vanquished white rule were all they needed to take this, another step along this reborn country’s long walk to freedom.
“If he was able to stay behind bars for 27 years for us, what is one day, just one rain-drenched day?” asked Musa Mbele.
But evidence abounded that the work of this young nation’s hero, talisman, president and founding father is not yet done.
The greatest cheers were for those speakers who demanded more freedom, more justice and more of what Mandela prescribed.
President Jacob Zuma — whose tenure in office has been plagued by scandals — was roundly and repeatedly booed, forcing ANC officials to call for order.
“I’m not listening to him. He must think about the people down there. We’re fed up with more taxes, toll-gates, prices of food going up, while many of us got no job,” said Phumzile Vilakaza, leaving the stadium.
But the mood was also celebratory.
“I’m a born-free. I was born in ’94,” said 19-year-old engineering student Luyanda with a big smile.
“The first few days I was crying. I’ve been watching everything on TV, documentaries. But today is a day of celebration,” Luyanda said.
People began gathering before daybreak to secure a seat and join nearly 100 heads of state and government who came to pay tribute to Mandela’s life and legacy.
“Viva Tata Madiba, Viva!” they shouted as the train door opened disgorging hundreds of mourners onto the station platform near the stadium.
From there they walked, jogged, sang and chanted through an unusually rain-sodden Johannesburg morning toward the Soweto venue, determined to pay their respects to Tata (Father) Mandela.
Once inside, the physical structure seemed to undulate as the crowd stomped their feet and danced as one, like a giant Mexican wave.
“This is once in your life. This is history,” said Noma Kova, 36. “I didn’t want to watch this on TV.”
They sang folk songs, religious songs and above all songs of the struggle that Mandela spearheaded.
For many of the tens of thousands who formed a heaving mass inside the venue, the horrors of Soweto, Sharpesville and Boipatong are as raw as the everyday humiliation of passbooks and separate toilets.
“I used to live on the main street of Soweto, and in 1976… I remember we would see students drop on the street like flies while we ran around ducking bullets,” said Jabu Maseko, 54, who owns an office equipment business. – Rappler.com
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