PRETORIA: On a public holiday dedicated to reconciliation, South Africans on Monday started coming to terms with the loss of Nelson Mandela, a day after he was buried at the end of a life struggle for freedom and equality.
A nine-meter, bronze statue of the democracy icon will be unveiled on the lawns of the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria where Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
For 50 million compatriots, Mandela was not just a statesman and president, but a moral guide who led the country away from internecine racial conflict.
While the man lovingly called the father of the nation had been critically ill for months, the announcement of his death on December 5 nevertheless sent a shockwave through a country struggling to carry forward his vision of a harmonious multi-racial democracy of shared prosperity.
During the funeral, President Jacob Zuma urged the country to carry on Mandela’s legacy.
“One thing we can assure you of today, Tata [father], as you take your final steps, is that South Africa will continue to rise… because we dare not fail you,” he said.
Ten days of official mourning came to an end Sunday with a state burial in Mandela’s rural boyhood village of Qunu, marked by tearful eulogies and strident vows to pursue his ideals.
“Madiba’s values and ideals must guide us as a nation as we contemplate a South Africa without his towering presence,” a government statement said after the funeral, using the clan name by which the anti-apartheid hero is fondly known.
“We will continue to draw lessons from Madiba’s very rich and extraordinary life and continue with his legacy.”
Symbolic of that legacy of reconciliation, Zuma will unwrap a giant Mandela statue in an event also marking the centenary of the Union Buildings, where generations of apartheid heads of state signed many of the racial laws Mandela spent most of his life fighting against.
The Day of Reconciliation was first marked in 1995, the year after South Africa’s first-ever democratic elections which symbolically ended decades of racial oppression.
Before that, December 16 had been commemorated by Afrikaners, the custodians of apartheid, for over 150 years.
It was at first called Day of the Covenant, honoring a victory of the early Afrikaners, mainly descendents of Dutch settlers, over Zulu warriors in an 1838 clash that became known as the Battle of Blood River.
Some Afrikaners still mark the day today.
But December 16 is also the anniversary of the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation)—the now ruling African National Congress’ armed wing, which Mandela founded.
After the all-race vote in 1994, the day was symbolically retained as a holiday and renamed.
“Former President Mandela is associated with the promotion of reconciliation which is why the day was chosen for the unveiling [of the statue]” said the government.
The event had been planned before Mandela’s death.
It is at the Union Buildings that Mandela lay in state for three days last week, as up to 100,000 people stood in hours-long queues to file past his open casket and pay their last respects.
“The unveiling [of the statue]. . . signals the start of celebrating and living the late Madiba’s legacy and the end of the mourning period,” said the government.
The national flag was raised on Monday from its half-mast position, and was flying as normal 11 days after Mandela died at the age of 95. AFP