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South Africans remember Mandela, one year on

Published on 04/12/2014

One year after the death of former president and Nobel peace laureate Nelson Mandela, South Africans are remembering his life through prayer, walks -- and cricket.

Official commemorations on the anniversary on Friday include an interfaith prayer service in Pretoria led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the laying of a wreath by veterans from the country’s struggle against apartheid.

“Although Nelson Mandela is no longer physically with us his legacy remains to guide us,” said his one-time jailer FW de Klerk in just one of many statements to mark the anniversary.

On Friday, bells, hooters, vuvuzelas and sirens will chime, honk, blow and wail for three minutes and seven seconds — followed by three minutes of silence: a six-minute and seven-second dedication to Mandela’s 67 years of public service.

At the weekend, poets will recite, musicians play, and bikers ride in honour of the anti-apartheid icon who died on December 5 last year after a lengthy battle with illness.

Commemorative walks will be walked and marathons run and South Africa’s national cricket and rugby teams will even battle it out in a friendly cricket match that’s been billed the Nelson Mandela Legacy Cup.

– ‘Posing with Mandela’ –

A year after his death, Mandela lives on in the public imagination of the “Rainbow Nation” he forged from the darkness of apartheid.

At Mandela House Museum — the Soweto house Mandela made home before his 27-year incarceration — visitors mill around his tiny bedroom absorbing the quieter, personal details of South Africa’s first black president.

“It’s like being close to him, sharing a piece of him,” said Monique Swanepoel, walking through the modest red-brick house.

It was her first visit to the museum — a three-and-a-half hour drive from her home in Zeerust, in the north of the country — and she moved around the compact home slowly, inspecting the family photographs showing the lanky leader in his younger days.

The museum had always been popular with international tourists, said management, but Mandela’s death had lured local visitors out of the woodwork.

“I wish I had made this trip earlier,” said Swanepoel. “I just realised that there is so much I don’t know about him.

“I think his death opened my eyes and took away the ignorance that I’ve had about him for years.”

Mandela was and would remain, she said, the biggest icon of our time.

At the Apartheid Museum north of the township, foreign and local visitors poured over an array of images and artefacts forming part of an exhibition honouring the founding father of a democratic South Africa.

They paused to listen to his speeches, his unique voice thundering within a maze of displays taking visitors through his childhood, his early political life, his imprisonment and his presidency.

“It’s very emotional to stand here and hear his voice, and see his face,” said Dutch tourist Jurgen Swartz.

“It’s like he is never gone.”

When unveiled in 2008, the display was temporary – a celebration of Mandela’s 90th birthday. Public interest has made it a permanent feature.

“People can’t get enough of Mandela, there is always an interest,” said curator Emilia Potenza. “Especially now that he is gone.”

And outside Union Buildings – the seat of government in Pretoria – dozens of photo-snapping tourists swamped a 30-foot bronze statue of Mandela, unveiled last year the day after his funeral, struggling to take selfies with the gigantic figure standing with arms outstretched.

“It’s like posing with Mandela,” said one admirer.