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T&T envoy caught up in ‘euphoria’ as South Africans honour Madiba

Saturday, December 7, 2013
Children, with placards showing the face of Nelson Mandela and referring to his clan name “Madiba,” march to celebrate his life in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday. Flags were lowered to half-staff and people in black townships, in upscale, mostly white suburbs and in South Africa’s vast rural grasslands commemorated Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers. AP photo

Almost immediately after South African president Jacob Zuma announced Nelson Mandela’s passing, shortly before midnight on Thursday, hundreds of people gathered in front of the iconic freedom fighter’s home in Houghton, northeast of Johannesburg, singing struggle songs and dancing until dawn. The crowd thickened yesterday morning and up until 9 pm last night was still there, T&T’s High Commissioner to South Africa Harry Partap told the T&T Guardian from his residence in Waterkloof, Pretoria.



“Apparently, they had an inkling during the day he might pass away. They brought flowers and began to sing struggle songs, and dance,” he said. “This went on the whole night until morning. The crowd picked up this morning and it’s around 9 pm and they are still there. The national orchestra also performed in front of Mandela’s house.” Endorsing the explanation given by South Africa’s Commissioner to T&T Maureen Modiselle, Partap said it was African culture at someone’s passing not to mourn, but celebrate the life they lived.


“There is such an outpouring of love for this man, whom they see as a father figure. They call him Tata, a fond term for someone like a father. The people here really like this man. They will really miss him.” Partap said Mandela, fondly known as Madiba by his countrymen, was born and grew up in Cunu in the eastern part of Johannesburg and Zuma announced a state funeral for him will be held there on December 15.


“Zuma called for a day of prayer and reflection for Mandela this Sunday and invited all South Africans, whatever religions they practised, to have prayers for Mandela.” Partap said the T&T High Commission’s flags will be flown at half-mast until the day of the funeral. He said Mandela’s body will lie in state from December 11 to 15. 


“On December 11, the State will have a memorial service for Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto. That stadium can accommodate 100,000 people and it is expected it will be packed and overflowing.” Partap said Mandela’s extraordinary ability to forgive stood out. “The apartheid system (a segregated system instituted under white rule) was brutal to Africans. Mandela (when he became president in 1994) could have said, ‘Let’s take revenge,’ but he asked for reconciliation.


“He appointed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu, and people who committed offences during apartheid could have gone to it and asked for forgiveness and would have been pardoned. Those who did not want forgiveness would have had to go to court. It was a beautiful system.”


Asked, based on his time there as High Commissioner, if he felt there has been true reconciliation between white and black South Africans since the end of apartheid or whether they were still segregated, Partap replied: “There is really reconciliation in the country. There is no segregation. “When you read the western media you get the impression there is a deep tension between whites and blacks. I have not seen that.”


Partap said whites, who ruled South Africa under the apartheid system, were now concentrating their energies on economic empowerment, while blacks were focused on political power. But blacks were also seeking economic empowerment, he said. “White companies are compelled by law to have partnership with black entrepreneurs. It’s working well.” He said the country’s education system has also been revamped.


A media release from Partap yesterday said the T&T High Commission in South Africa had expressed condolences to Mandela’s family, friends, the government and the people on behalf of this country. Partap said, “It is for us to keep his values and principles alive so that never again will man’s inhumanity to man find expression in the system that Mr Mandela and his comrades fought and conquered.”


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