Tens of thousands of South African mourners waited in line on Friday to view the body of Nelson Mandela, which was lying in state for the third and final day, with the likelihood that many would be turned away before the casket is taken away later in the day.
The government said some 50,000 people had gathered by 7.30 a.m. (0530 GMT), and an AP journalist said on Friday the lines in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, were already several kilometres (miles) long. Organizers handed out water to the crowds, and moved up elderly people and women with children to spare them a longer wait.
As people kept arriving, the government warned it couldn’t guarantee that all people currently will be able to file past Mandela’s casket until the agreed limit on Friday afternoon. Some of those who did view the body at the Union Buildings, a century-old government complex overlooking the city, wept at the sight of the revered anti-apartheid leader in a coffin.
Mourner Elizabeth Leening said she got up at 3 a.m. and headed toward Pretoria’s Union Buildings an hour later to pay her last respects to Mandela.
“We have been standing in the queue now for four hours to see Madiba,” she said, using Mandela’s clan name as a sign of affection and respect.
Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years and later became president, died on December 5 in his Johannesburg home after a long illness at the age of 95. From Pretoria, his body will be flown to his rural hometown of Qunu in the south-east of the country for a state funeral service and burial on Sunday.
U.S. civil rights campaigner Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was in Cape Town in 1990 when Mandela was released from prison, also walked-past Mandela’s casket, with photos showing him comforting a woman there who was overcome by emotion.
President Jacob Zuma’s office said he had authorized the deployment of 11,900 military servicemen to assist police in maintaining order during the funeral service.