Celebrating Madiba’s life with song and dance (and plenty of #MadibaMagic)
We drove towards Soweto in a sombre mood, the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing just a few hours old.
Tributes flooded in on the local radio station and it was hard not to get teary driving past the Joburg skyline en route to Soweto. We headed for Vilakazi Street, where Madiba once lived close to the family home of his dear friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The cheeky little blue sports car with 'RIP Madiba' written on it should have been a sign. This was not going to be a day of sadness and mourning, but one of celebration.
We headed up Vilakazi Street, following the music to outside number 8115, The Mandela House. And although it was early in the day people were already singing and dancing, stomping the ground, forming circles, coming together, moving apart – singing in one voice, that incredible sound of Africa that gets right into your being – warming from the inside out.
One of the residents explained it beautifully, ‘Today we are here at Mandela’s place, we are going to sing to show our gratitude for what he has done for us.’
Today we are here at Mandela’s place, we are going to sing to show our gratitude for what he has done for us.
The outpouring of love was clear to see – and people from all cultures across the city began to arrive to pay their respects and simply be together. Some held posters saying RIP Madiba, others proudly wore the colours of the ANC, reporters and photographers clustered for the best spots to capture the historic events taking place and ordinary South Africans took to the tarmac to sing of their love for the father of the nation.
Sakhumzi restaurant, opposite The Mandela House was already pumping with tourists, visitors from all across Johannesburg and local residents. Entrepreneurs had set up stalls selling all sorts of Mandela memorabilia and people were hanging about talking about one very good man: Nelson Mandela.
We left the throng of singers made up of locals, tourists, women, children and drove to the suburb of Houghton to Mandela’s home there, and in fact the place where he passed away at 8:50pm on December 5th. People were streaming through the streets, holding flowers and letters and each other.
And again, like Vilakazi Street, we heard the singing from blocks away – resonant voices singing and dancing for this great South African and his incredible legacy.
Outside on the pavement a mountain of flowers continued to grow and the crowds continued to come and pay tribute. The songs continued long into the night and will for many days and nights to come – because in Africa we sing for every good reason, life, death and all the inbetween bits too.
We left Houghton feeling not glass half empty, but glass overflowing. What we had predicted to be a sad day was a beautiful, uplifting celebration filled with noise and colour and song and dance. Sure, the tears and sadness will play their role, but the joy that this great man lived his life is there for the taking, in every moment as we remember his incredible legacy.
RIP Nelson Mandela.