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.
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end