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TT High Commissioner: South Africans weep in the streets

Saturday, December 7 2013

TRINIDAD and Tobago’s High Commissioner to South Africa Harry Partap yesterday described scenes of South Africans crying in the streets as the country struggled to come to terms with the death of Nelson Mandela.

In an interview with Newsday from Pretoria, where the TT High Commission is located, Partap said the African state has been officially placed in ten days of mourning. The Trinidad and Tobago flag was flown at half mast yesterday, waving languidly behind the tall white walls of the High Commission compound which is 45 minutes drive from Mandela’s home at Houghton.

“Lots of people were crying in the streets this morning,” Partap said. “The mood here is very sad. It’s eerie, the sense of a great loss is almost palpable. People are moving about very quietly. They are really feeling this. On one television station I even saw news anchors looking teary-eyed. Mr Mandela was such a figure, he was known to look after children and the people, especially the elderly. Some of the High Commission staff members were inconsolable.”

At the same time, however, Partap noted that the sombre mood was also balanced by the South African tradition of not only mourning but also celebrating their dead.

“On Thursday night, as soon as people heard the news, they gathered outside of his house wrapped in blankets and holding candles. They began to sing and to chant,” Partap said. “In South Africa, even if you are mourning there is singing and chanting because you are happy that the soul is at rest. People have left flowers and bouquets. They had to put up a fence because of all the flowers.”

Partap expressed the view that Mandela’s most important act was arguably setting up the Truth and Reconciliation committee which, in the 1990s, adjudicated over wrongs committed during the apartheid period which he had dismantled.

“Had it not been for these steps he had taken during the transition from apartheid to freedom, things would have been different,” he said. “He recognised that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a vital tool because if you could not unite the country the country would not exist. Reconciliation was all about coming to terms with all the oppression that happened while at the same time moving on. He recognised the importance of moving on to build the country and this is why he set up the Commission which was headed by Desmond Tutu.”

Partap said the Commission provided catharsis and was a key moment in the world’s history.

“People involved in apartheid and people involved in the armed struggle against it came face to face and confessed and asked for forgiveness and the Commission had the power to forgive or to indict. That was a tremendous moment in history,” he said. He lamented not being able to meet Mandela in his lifetime, due to his declining health in recent years.

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