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
  • 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: HGV Fitter - Technician

£16 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for someone ...

Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW London

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Account Payable Assistant - SW Londo...

Recruitment Genius: Bathroom Showroom Customer Service / Sales Assistant

£14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence