Mourning Mandela’s Death by Celebrating His Life

Thursday night the world received some very sad news. Nelson Mandela had passed away at his home in Johannesburg at the age of 95. This is something I had been anticipating for some time. In fact, I was certain it would happen last June when I was in South Africa and he had been admitted to hospital. When I got the news I was out in Limpopo province far from Johannesburg. On Friday I headed back into the city and straight to Mandela’s home in the upscale neighborhood of Houghton to pay my respects.

Flowers adorn Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg

Flowers adorn Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg

I didn’t know what to expect at Mandela’s house, but once we got there I found something completely unexpected. Hundreds of South Africans were gathered as expected. But they were not weeping. Nobody looked sad or was crying. Instead, they were celebrating. They were mourning the loss of the father of their nation not in sorrow, but by instead celebrating his life. Yes, there were flowers and candles and poster boards and photos, but there was also dancing, and singing, and general rejoice.  Black men danced with white men, children danced with grown ups, everyone celebrated the life of a great man equally.Mandela Mourning Collage 1

Outside Mandela's Home in Houghton 29

Outside Mandela's Home in Houghton 3

Outside Mandela's Home in Houghton 17

Outside Mandela's Home in Houghton 32There was a general positivity in the air that I have never experienced with so many people gathered together. Everyone was courteous, everyone was caring, everyone was equal. It was as if I was experiencing the physical embodiment of the ideals that Mandela lived for. I was randomly interviewed while all this was going on. Here is the video:

When night fell I headed into the township of Soweto with some friends. Vilakazi Street was once home to both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mandela’s home is now a museum and Vilakazi street is sort of the epicenter of Soweto’s cultural history and role in the end of Apartheid.


Mandela Painting Interview

Soweto Celebrations 1

As we walked up Vilakazi Street towards the Mandela House we could already hear the crowds of people singing. Thousands of South Africans were out en masse celebrating the life of Mandela. Massive throngs of people made their way up the street singing at the top of their lungs. They would stop, they would dance, they would form a circle and speak in other languages. Everything had an extreme openness and equality to it. I stood in the middle of the road holding my GoPro  as 200 people marched around me, some waving at the camera as they passed. Although not South African, unable to understand the languages and unfamiliar with the songs, I felt incredibly connected to everyone there.

Soweto Celebrations 6

Soweto Celebrations 3

South Africans would see the four of us (white, obvious foreigners) and start to dance with us. They would shake our hands and thank us for being there with them. There were no organizers, no police, no security and no plan. Everything happening totally organically and was created by normal people. I have never seen so many people in one place without any violence. Even as the marching crowds flooded into bars and restaurants and started getting very drunk, the singing and positivity just continued.

Outside Mandela's Home in Houghton 25

I feel so lucky to have been in South Africa for such a historic event. Although the world will miss Nelson Mandela, it was a beautiful thing to see the people of South Africa mourn Mandela’s death by celebrating his life.

Mandela Square at Night 1

To see what was happening simultaneously in Cape Town, check out this post from The South AfriKhan.

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