Subscribe to RSS feed

Nelson Mandela Memorial Service, Soweto, December 2013

Nelson Mandela died last Thursday evening at age 95. The memorial service was today, and Piper and Heidi and I were able to go to it. We weren't initially planning to, but it turned out the crowd was smaller than anticipated, so we thought we had good odds at making it in, and we did.

View thumbnails (no captions)

Run slideshow (big images)

Return to photo index

It is summer in SA and that means a lot of rain. Today we had 12 hours straight of rain -- often hard.
FNB stadium, courtesy of the 2010 World Cup. We parked a few km away and walked. Traffic wasn't bad, and we fared much better than those who listened to the Joburg transportation officials, who encouraged people to take the bus or train, and were stranded often for hours.

The stadium is in Soweto, maybe a two-mile walk from Mandela's home there.

The program, which forgets to mention Archbishop Desmond Tutu! Interestingly, both Mandela and Tutu lived on Vilakazi Street in Soweto -- apparently the only street with two nobel laureates in the world. My mom and I had biked by both of their houses the week before -- by coincidence, the afternoon that Mandela died..

Most of these make sense (it's basically BRICS + US + UN), but what is Cuba dong there? Cuba and South Africa have been friends for a long time, and Mandela took some inspiration from Cuba's struggle -- see this article.

Singing while filing into the stadium. Capacity at FNB is advertised at 90,000. The memorial was scheduled for 11 AM - 3 PM (doors open at 6 AM).
I saw a tweet at 7 AM showing the stadium still nearly empty. Piper and I drove down and were in around 10:30. Heidi came down a few hours later.
Lots of singing and dancing to start the show...

Also big cheers as visiting dignitaries were introduced. Some got huge applause (Kenya, US, China, Cuba), and other the crowd was quiet for (Seychelles, New Zealand, Belgium)..

Big applause too for FW de Klerk, white president who ended apartheid with Mandela.

"Amandla!" = "Power!," used by the ANC against apartheid.
The ANC (African National Congress) was out in full force. They are Mandela's party, and were banned during apartheid. They are in power now (President Jacob Zuma), but corruption is high, so a lot of people are getting more cautious of the ANC..

"I think today is the last day of the ANC. They are going to fall after this," said one person, and probably a common sentiment.

Stadium was definitely not up to capacity. The rains kept away many people. And we originally weren't going to go either, assuming that with just 80,000 seats in a city of 4M+, there was no way we'd get in.
This guy has a camera and portable printer and was selling photos. Someone else was selling prints he'd made of Barack Obama on the Jumbotron.
The woman sitting next to me in the stands...

There was nearly continual dancing and singing somewhere in the stadium. Probably a half dozen times the MC came on:.

"To those of you in the stadium behind the speaker, I ask you now to tone down the singing.".

"I beg of you now, to those of you who are in the band, with all of my heart, I ask you to please put down your instruments now. We all want to hear your beautiful music. But later, please.".

"I ask you again, please, all be quiet. I will stop the procedings if you are not all quiet!"

The main podium was on the red carpet below. Speakers included presidents (or similar) from the US, Cuba, Namibia, UN, Brazil, India, China, and SA. I was surprised that most of the addresses were rather dry and unemotional. Only Obama and Tutu really got the crowd going. Although there was quite a bit of singing in the crowd, this was a very basic service -- no Bono cameos, no jets flying over, no multimedia extravaganza.

As put by one caller I heard on the drive back, "Comparing Zuma to Obama? It's like a tractor compared with a high-class Mercedes Benz."

Lots of umbrellas! The stadium was built for the 2010 World Cup. The bottom half is outdoors; the top half (where we were) is covered.
As far as crowd response goes, Obama (speaking here on the red-carpeted platform, and on TV behind) was the most popular speaker. He gave a 15-minute energetic and inspiring talk. The crowd loves Obama and they let him know.

In contrast, they loudly booed their own president (Zuma) every time his image came up on TV, or another speaker mentioned him.

The radio here played several times a clip of Obama saying "... and Mandela helped me to be the man that I am now." -- followed immediately by a huge outburst from the crowd, everyone going wild. It's true that that's what happened. But the reason they went wild isn't because of what Obama said -- it's because the technicians in the stadium fixed the TV, and at that very moment Obama's face came onto the Jumbotron for the first time..

Seats up top are full because they are dry! People with the umbrellas are down below, in the constant rain. Admission was free and open, except for those in the box seats in the middle.

Heidi and Piper! Piper and I drove down early; Heidi joined a few hours later..

It was interesting and a bit surprising that we were among the few white people there, and I saw almost no Afrikaaners (white South Africans). The crowd was 99% black (in a country that is 80% black, 10% white, and 10% asian/indian). Perhaps because the stadium is in Soweto (a black township of 1.2 million) and it was easier for them to get there? Or maybe related to the fact that it was not an official holiday, and it was hard for people to get off work? I don't know, and I haven't heard anyone discussing it.

By 4.5 hours into the service, Archbishop Desmond Tutu comes out to give the final address (and he was great!). But most of the crowd has gone... a lot went after Obama, and most of the rest after Zuma...According to the radio, by this point 'hundreds' of people had left (!).
Get your Mandela gear! Heidi paid a few rand for a nice Mandela blanket (modeled here). Unfortunately, it turns out that it was sealed and when she opened it, she found out she was the proud owner of a Jacob Zuma blanket.
Leaving the stadium afterwards. Headgear for the guy on the left is for the ZCC = Zion Christian Church.
Walking back to the car afterwards...


Return to photo index


Henry Throop

Last modified Thu Dec 12 8:36:23 2013