It was a rainbow crowd of people who lined up outside South Africa House overlooking London’s Trafalgar Square – the site - of many an anti-apartheid sit-in and concert in the past - to sign the condolence book for the man who believed that truth-telling and reconciliation amongst warring peoples was the only road to peace.
In both joy and sorrow, people of all ages and colour made their contribution to a growing mass of floral tributes and messages of personal remembrance and meaning, before they joined the queue to sign the condolence book. Colourfully attired South Africans, some draped with the country’s flag, broke into chants, songs and shuffles on a day when the sun broke out after a long stretch of bleak and cold weather.
Lungila Nkosi was only 30 years when apartheid was dismantled in 1994. “I was made to feel a human being only at the age of 30,” she said. “Mandela is our Moses,” she declared to a round of affirmative nods and cheers of those around her.
Recalling her childhood in a township in Durban, the South African social worker from Islington recalled the “horrible” system of apartheid. Her parents and grandparents were servants, and she recalls the poverty and fear in her township where “if anyone spoke out they were killed.”
She also talks of the unfinished tasks of Mandela’s legacy, of “addressing poverty, homelessness, women’s inequality,” a theme that Gloria Blackburn-Smith, a Jamaican grandmother, who has come from Surrey to remember Mandela with her 11-year-old granddaughter, Aliyah, reiterates.
“Believe me, segregation is still there in a different form,” Mrs. Blackburn-Smith says. “My own household is built around Mandela,” she says. A participant in the Bristol anti-apartheid movement, she speaks of her first impressions of hearing Mandela speak. “There he was: elegant, tall, surreal putting across his vision in a calm way.”
Her children in Pretoria, she says, imbibed Mandela’s philosophy of learning to forgive. “To say you forgive is the biggest affront,” she said, “because the person to whom you are talking has to live with it.”
For Dr. Remasiri Boralessa from Sri Lanka, who had been waiting for an hour in the queue, Mandela’s message was not a matter of simple forgiveness towards the perpetrator of oppression; it must come after the “recognition of errors and mistakes.” He believes Mandela’s life and teaching has great resonance for his country in healing the wounds of ethnic violence.