Nelson Mandela funeral: ‘To me, he was like Moses, he brought the people out of the land of bondage’

Ordinary people all over South Africa gathered to say their goodbyes and think about what ‘Tata Madiba’ meant to them

Soweto

She would not normally have come and sat alone in the stands. But Harriet Moromane’s television set broke two weeks ago and, unable to afford a new one, this was the best way to say farewell to “Madiba”.

“I came to pay my last respects. I could not go to Qunu,” said the 62-year-old, seated in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium. “So I came here instead of coming to church.”

As the world tuned in to see Nelson Mandela being laid to rest at his ancestral home in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, across the country people gathered to watch on large screens set up by the authorities.

Some, such as Mrs Moromane, had no alternative. Others chose to surround themselves with people at these public events for this final goodbye to the former President. “I came from Bloemfontein. We wanted to be with other people,” said Lenato Mokoena, 29, seated nearby, and who works for a telecommunications company. She credited Mr Mandela with creating unprecedented opportunities for today’s younger generation. “We have more options now. Back then you went straight to work as a domestic help.”

Mrs Moromane, who had slipped a white “Goodbye Tata Madiba” T-shirt over her Sunday best, could make no special claim to knowing the former President or having some special place in the freedom movement. She had never met him in person. But she had been born and raised in Soweto, the township on the fringes of Johannesburg that was repeatedly made to bleed, and she had emerged from the dark years, keen to recognise the role of Mr Mandela and others in transforming people’s lives.

“We were perpetually living under apartheid. The people were not meant to know anything,” she said, a cotton hat pulled down over tight grey curls. “There could be nothing on the radio about Madiba or the African National Congress or the struggle.”

Mrs Moromane said she had learned of Mr Mandela’s name only in the summer of 1976 when students demonstrated about a new move to teach lessons in Afrikaans and not English. One young boy, Hector Pieterson, who was aged just 13, was shot and killed by police, while scores were injured or arrested. One day, Mrs Moromane, then aged 26, had been at the clothing factory where she worked when the manager made an announcement over the loudspeaker. “He said, ‘ Everyone must pack up and go home because Soweto is on fire’,” she said. “We went home on trains and taxis and we discovered Soweto was on fire. Everything was on fire.”

Mrs Moromane said police began firing rubber bullets. She was hit twice in the legs. She could hear the students chanting “Free Tata Madiba”. “I was saying ‘Who is this Tata Madiba man?’ And since then it has been going on and on – through the 1980s and until he was released,” she said.

There were no more than 500 people in the Orlando Stadium. Seated in the sunshine in the row behind Mrs Moromane was Godfrey Macheke, a 24-year-old who works in a warehouse. He was concentrating hard on the screen, listening to the tributes.  “ The guy was like a shepherd to us. From the moment we were born, we had the freedom to get education, to do whatever we wanted,” he said of Mr Mandela. “Before, people could only study to join the police or nursing. My education is a proof of the change.”

When Mr Mandela was released in 1990, Mrs Moromane, who is divorced and whose brother died in 1965, joined the crowds outside his home in Vilakazi Street to catch a glimpse of the “old man”. There were too many people.

“He has never had anger. After 27 years he stepped out of jail with a smile,” she said. “You are thinking ‘maybe it’s going to be war’. But he came out and offered forgiveness to those who had done terrible things to him.”

She also remembered standing in line four years later when black South Africans finally got the vote and elected Mr Mandela as the country’s first non-white President. “It was four or five hours in the line,” she said. “But everyone was smiling. We were liberated, we were out of the bondage... To me he was like Moses – he went and brought the people out of Egypt, the land of bondage.”

Mrs Moromane watched the screen as various dignitaries in Qunu paid tribute to Mr Mandela. She nodded when Malawi’s President, Joyce Banda, urged South Africa to continue on the path of multiculturalism and try to remain a “rainbow nation”, and she sang along with everyone in the stadium when President Jacob Zuma led a rendition of the protest song “Tina Sizwe”.

Finally, when Mr Mandela’s coffin was taken by gun carriage towards the grave, she got to her feet along with everyone else and punched her left fist into the air. As the television camera focused on Mr Mandela’s coffin, there was a roar from the stands.

At some point, the cameras cut away from the grave – a request made by the family. Slowly people started to drift out of the stadium and make their way home. Mrs Moromane stayed fixed in her seat.

She declined the offer of a lift. Instead, she said, she would take a taxi back home to Soweto, the site of such remarkable struggle, much of which she had witnessed first-hand. “It’s just around the corner,” she said.

Tributes tweets on the funeral

How about the funeral venue for Tata? Incredible. Definitely built for the greatest legend of our time.

Zweli Mbhele in Johannesburg

Such a deserved send off. Thank you Tata for what you have achieved, one cannot put a price on your sacrifices. God bless you.

Jeromy Joubert in Cape Town

Ndaba Mandela [who read an obituary on behalf of the Mandela family] has the echo of his grandfather’s voice ... Feels like in some way we are listening to #Madiba. 

Lillian Japhta in Cape Town

Tears in my eyes by looking at the images of Graça Machel and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at #MadibaFuneral.

Earl September in Cape Town

As my 9 year old nephew #Mvelo cries. Even he feels the pain.

Lindiwe Kubheka in Johannesburg

Thank you Tata Madiba. You made it possible for my grandfather, mother and I to vote for the first time in ‘94.

Uraisha Haswell in South Africa

Beautiful that Chief Ngangomhlaba spoke in Xhosa. Not much English is spoken in Qunu!

Andisiwe Makinana, ‘Mail & Guardian’ journalist

Free magazine

The Independent has produced a commemorative 48-page magazine to mark the life of Nelson Mandela in words and pictures. With contributions from Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, John Carlin, Anthony Sampson, Albie Sachs, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, this is an elegant record of Mandela’s achievements. If you would like a copy of the supplement, please email mandela@independent.co.uk with your full name and postal address. This offer is subject to availability and for UK addresses only.

Video: Nelson Mandela's funeral

By default player size is set to 420 x 315px. But you can resize player width and height once you get the player code using player params.
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing