South Africans gather to bid beloved 'father of nation' farewell
SOME had come to wish him well, others to say goodbye, and others to make a final withdrawal from his immense political capital.
As news filtered out yesterday that Nelson Mandela was on life support at a clinic in Pretoria, a crowd gathered outside that contained all the hues of his "rainbow nation".
Some mothers brought their babies with them and gaggles of schoolchildren added their drawings to the growing gallery of affection plastered on the hospital wall.
Young and old carried flowers or photos of themselves with Madiba, the clan name by which many South Africans refer to their former president.
"This is how South Africa is," said Phumza Buela, a smartly dressed young woman in designer sunglasses who took the day off work to come from Johannesburg.
"This is the nation Madiba created. This is how he taught us to treat each other."
Among the many white faces in the gathering was Dalena Van Rooyen, a grandmother from the Transkei, the same part of South Africa from which Mr Mandela comes.
"I realised it's the last time I could be near the Madiba magic," she said.
"He's still greater than life. Look, here everybody is united."
A black-and-white portrait showing a young woman sitting next to the Nobel Peace laureate was tied to the hospital railings with the dedication: "Thank you for sacrificing your life to give me and my son a brighter future after too many years of darkness."
The note concluded that it was "time to rest" and was signed simply: "Bridget".
Many South Africans had braced themselves for the departure of the father of the nation yesterday after President Jacob Zuma cancelled a scheduled trip to Mozambique and the presidency confirmed that his health had worsened.
But his eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, who came and went from the Pretoria clinic yesterday, suggested in an emotional interview that he was still clinging to life.
She also lambasted the foreign media whom she accused of racism for "crossing boundaries" in their coverage of her father's condition, saying: "It's truly like vultures waiting when the lion has devoured the buffalo, waiting there for the last of the carcass."
A fresh statement from the South African presidency then announced that Mr Mandela's condition had improved overnight to a point described as "stable but critical".
The 94-year-old's precarious health overshadowed the first day of Barack Obama's first serious tour of Africa since becoming the first black president of the United States.
After landing in Senegal on the first stop of a three-country tour that will include South Africa, Mr Obama paid tribute to Mr Mandela.
He said that the anti-apartheid hero had given him a sense of what was possible when "righteous people, people of goodwill work together for a larger cause".
The legacy of Mr Mandela is powerful enough that activists from the ruling African National Congress, of which he was once leader, staged a small election rally outside the Pretoria hospital.
ANC supporters wore T-shirts with the motto: "There is no born-free without a liberator. Vote ANC 2014."
Mingling with the concerned crowd and hundreds of journalists, the activists were given a pep talk about Mr Mandela and how their party would win another two-thirds majority at elections expected next year.