Soweto thanks God for its liberator
Former enemies join the tributes to Mandela
Published 09/12/2013 | 02:30
The face of Nelson Mandela looked down from the stained-glass windows of Regina Mundi church in Soweto as an old man held the hand of his grandson and they danced and sang.
"We have so much to be thankful for," said Tommy Zwange (78), one of the many millions who gathered in churches, temples, mosques and homes yesterday for a national day of prayer.
More than 1,000 people were around him in the church near Mandela's old house, which was once a shelter to those who resisted apartheid.
Mr Zwange remembered the day police opened fire on innocent people, inside the church. "I remember the noise and the people screaming. There was going to be a war. We can thank God and Mandela that it did not happen."
President Jacob Zuma urged people not to waste that legacy, but to build a future based on Mandela's values of unity, freedom and justice.
At the beginning of the official programme of mourning, Mr Zuma said he hoped these prayer services would "heal the nation".
They were the first chance for people to meet and remember the man that many call Madiba – his tribal name – and others know as Tata, the Xhosa word for father.
Even those who once called him their enemy were thankful. The Dutch Reformed Church in East Pretoria was once known as the altar of apartheid, because the Bible teachings there sought to provide a basis for racial separation.
Pastor Niekie Lamprecht remembered the fear that some felt when Mandela came to power. He said: "What helped the white people of South Africa was Mr Mandela's attitude. He said 'let's forgive' and he forgave. That created a space for people to feel safe and change at a time when the expectation was that there was going to be a war."
Mr Zuma told mourners in Bryanstown Methodist Church: "When our struggle came to an end, he (Mandela) preached and practised reconciliation, to make those who had been fighting to forgive one another and become one nation.
"He believed in caring and he cared for our nation. He believed in forgiving and forgave, even those who kept him in jail for 27 years."
The Mandela family fought each other in the courts over the summer, arguing about who should have control over his financial legacy and even his bones, while the ailing patriarch was in hospital. Mandla, the eldest grandson, who made an attempt to have Mandela buried in his own village, to his profit, was ostracised by the family.
But he sat in the front pew of the church yesterday as Mr Zuma spoke, alongside Winnie Madikizela -Mandela, Mandela's former wife.
Making her first public appearance since his death on Thursday, dressed in a black turban, she listened intently.
Graca Machel, Mandela's third wife, who was at his side every day in the hospital as he lay close to death, has maintained her usual dignified silence.
For others yesterday, there was already a sense that mourning should give way to celebration for his long life and all they feel he achieved for them.
It was fitting that this should start with prayers of thanks.
Mandela was educated in a Methodist school and baptised a Methodist as a young man. But at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg yesterday, leaders of many faiths paid tribute.
Among them was the country's chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, who said: "He was like Joseph in the Bible: he came out of jail and became president and, like Joseph, he was prepared to forgive his brothers."
In Soweto, Fr Sebastian Rossaw told the congregation: "God sent us our own John the Baptist, this man who could show us – despite what was going on at the time – that the light could still shine in the night."
After the two-hour Mass, Mr Zwange lifted his four-year-old grandson, Moosra, into his arms and said: "He is only young now, but he knows Mandela. He will grow up to understand what this man did for us, as will all the children here. That gives us hope." (© Daily Telegraph, London)