09 December 2013 by Denise Slabbert

Madiba: Tributes on the Square

Mourners have arrived in their numbers to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, and the Square has been transformed into a sea of flowers, letters, balloons and cards celebrating Madiba’s incredible life.

Flowers with the statue of Nelson Mandela in the background

The ocean of flowers in the middle of the piazza at Nelson Mandela Square continues to grow as more and more mourners arrive to pay their respects to this great man.

Orderly queues of well-wishers patiently wait their turn to have their picture taken next to the statue of Nelson Mandela, and when their turn arrives they hug the legs of the giant statue that is the place of pride on this Square. Emotions are mixed – some people are jubilant, others sad and reflective, and although the mood is melancholy, the feeling of togetherness can be felt and seen.

A young girl pays her respects A young girl pays her respects

A large TV screen has been set up at the far end of the Square, with news images of Mandela on a constant roll, and there's a line snaking towards a table where one can write tributes in a memorial book.

As diners look on to the Square from the many restaurants that hug its outskirts, they can see more and more people arriving, and the mountain of tributes growing in the centre. Moms with prams, kids on fathers' shoulders, the elderly, the young and trendy singles, regular families, and people from all walks of life are here.

'It's amazing to see the diverse cultures, people buying flowers, bringing traditional items,' says a student who has been to Houghton and some of the other tribute sites. 'I would say Sandton is quite sombre but it is so unified, so it's a beautiful thing to see and experience.'

The larger-than-life Nelson Mandela statue The larger-than-life Nelson Mandela statue

A little girl places a flower among the bunches of flowers and looks proudly at her mother. 'Mandela was my hero, and he fought for our freedom and our country so that we could one day all get an education,' she says.

A gentleman from Mpumalanga is proud to be at the square, and has brought his whole family along. 'We are here to see the icon, to see the statue,' he says, turning around and surveying the scenes of kindness unfolding beneath the giant legs of Mandela's statue. 'This is what he has left – a legacy and something for us to be proud of and to build on for a better, new South Africa and a new world.'

Signing the memorial book at Nelson Mandela Square Signing the memorial book at Nelson Mandela Square

Another student, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says being in South Africa at this time is very special for all Africans. 'Today we are gathering here to remember Nelson Mandela, the father of South Africa – not only South Africa, but Africa in general.'

A woman from the Eastern Cape, dressed in a colourful African headscarf, doesn't want to say anything about Mandela. She wants to sing. So she begins to sing a song of praise to the Madiba clan at the top of her voice as a crowd gathers in delight. She finishes her song with a little dance and is satisfied.

Mandela is being honoured in this square far from the hills of Qunu, at a place where those who admired him can express themselves in many different ways.

For the rest of the week, leading up to his funeral in Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday, Nelson Mandela Square will be a gathering place where people can come together to honour a great icon, and to find solace in each other.

Nelson Mandela Square is situated in Maude Street, Sandton.

A sea of flowers in honour of Nelson Mandela. All images by Darling Lama Productions A sea of flowers in honour of Nelson Mandela. All images by Darling Lama Productions
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