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Tuesday, December 10 2013

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Nelson Mandela’s final hours before his death at age 95, last Thursday, were “wonderful” because his family were all there to say goodbye.

“I think from last week, Friday until Thursday, it was a wonderful time, if you can say the process of death is wonderful. But Tata (Nelson Mandela) had a wonderful time, because we were there,” Makaziwe Mandela, the former South African president’s daughter revealed in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported yesterday.

Her account came ahead of today’s historic memorial in Johannesburg where more than 90 world leaders, including TT Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, will gather to salute the iconic freedom fighter.

Makaziwe, 60, the eldest of Mandela’s surviving three daughters said her father’s wife, Graca Machel, and close family members stayed with him in his last moments.

“Until the last moment he had us, you know. The children were there, the grandchildren were there, Graca was there, so we were always around him and even at the last moment, we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day,” Makaziwe told BBC journalist Komla Dumor.

Mandela had six children, four girls and two boys, from his first two marriages to Evelyn Mase (Makaziwe’s mother) and Winnie Mandela. A daughter and two sons died.

Zenani and Zindzi, his other surviving daughters with Winnie, were in London attending the premiere of a movie based on Mandela’s life, Long Walk to Freedom, when they learned of his passing, and asked for the event to continue in his honour.

Mandela, who had been hospitalised for several months, remained in doctors care at his home in Johannesburg. Makaziwe said the doctors called for the family to come together when Mandela’s death was imminent.

“When the doctors told us I think Thursday morning... that there was nothing that they could do, and said to me ‘Maki call everybody that is here that wants to see him and say bye bye’, it was a most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there,” she said.

Makaziwe paid tribute to the doctors for the 24-hour care they gave her father.

“It was like there were soldiers guarding this period of the king — yes my father comes from royalty — without them knowing they were actually practising our rituals and culture, they were there in silence and when we as family members come in they would excuse themselves and just a few of them would be there to give us the time to be around my dad’s bed,” she said.

Makaziwe said, for the past few months, she would tell her father she loved him and would see him again tomorrow.

“And maybe he would open his eyes for just a second and close those eyes,” she said, telling the BBC she believed her father had fought not just for political freedom but also for spiritual freedom.

“He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing,” she said. “I think he knew that if he didn’t forgive, he would be forever imprisoned spiritually.”

“The lesson we can take from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people. None of us are born hating another — we are taught to hate and if you can teach a human being to hate you can also teach a human being to love, to embrace and to forgive,” she said.

Mandela led the fight against white rule over the black majority in South Africa, and was jailed for 27 years. Following his release from prison in 1990, Mandela went on to be the first democratically elected black president of South Africa in 1994, and unified the nation, preaching not only an end to racism but called for reconciliation about blacks and whites.

South Africa’s parliament met in special session yesterday to pay tribute to Mandela, with family members in the gallery.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said there was a “sweeping feeling of sorrow” worldwide following Mr Mandela’s death, but the most important thing was how those left behind dealt with his legacy.

“The litmus test is whether inheritors of his dream... will be able to make the dream for which he lived come to pass in the fullness of time,” Motlanthe said.

The BBC, citing the South African foreign ministry, reported 91 current heads of state or government, along with “ten former heads of state, 86 heads of delegations and 75 eminent persons,” will be at the memorial, including US President Barack Obama, President Francois Hollande of France and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Three former US presidents, George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, will also be there. Obama and Bush flew to South Africa on presidential jet Air Force One, along with their wives and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

On Saturday, Cuban state media announced that President Raul Castro would be one of those attending Mandela’s funeral.

Under Castro’s brother Fidel, Cuba was a staunch critic of apartheid, and Mandela had expressed gratitude for his support.

Today’s memorial service is likely to be one of the biggest gatherings of international dignitaries in recent years.

They will join a 95,000-strong crowd at the memorial service at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, where Mandela made his final major public appearance during the 2010 football World Cup.

Among those also on the list are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, German President Joachim Gauck, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and India’s President Pranab Mukherjee.

Leading celebrities in the anti-apartheid movement entertainers Peter Gabriel and Bono are also expected to attend.

Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria on the following three days and he will be given a state funeral on Sunday.

A smaller number of international dignitaries including the Prince of Wales will attend the burial in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu, where the late president grew up.

In Johannesburg yesterday, thousands of mourners, black and white, kept an all day vigil outside the villa where Mandela died, placing flower bouquets and condolence notes on top of piles already knee-high. Others danced while singing praise for the anti-apartheid leader — a vivid example of the “Rainbow Nation” unity of race-blind multiculturalism championed by Mandela for South Africa.

As players for the nation’s top Kaiser Chiefs soccer team were escorted inside the villa in one of the city’s most exclusive neighbourhoods to grieve with Mandela’s relatives, hospital receptionist Nelson Jabulani Dube said the crowd of black, white and mixed race mourners transforming a street corner into a make-shift shrine was evidence that Mandela succeeded in breaking down barriers in a country defined for generations by race-based hate.

“It’s all because of him, because he forgave the enemies at that time, they no longer are the enemies,” said Dube, 33. “For me the outcome is really stunning and unites us, and what you see here is a reflection of that.”

Michele Marija, an elderly white Johannesburg resident, spontaneously hugged a black woman, calling her “my sister,” after the woman made space for her so she could get a better view of the shrine. Then Marija’s daughters also hugged the woman. Marija insisted that her daughters and granddaughters visit Mandela’s house, saying his decision to forgive his white oppressors after being released from 27 years in jail saved South Africa from brutal bloodshed.

Many mourners danced in a circle singing in the Sesotho language, “Madiba, you are the holy man”.

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