By Peroshni Govender
PRETORIA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of mourners, some breaking through police barriers, flocked to South Africa’s central government buildings on Friday to say a personal goodbye to anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on the final day of his lying in state.
Such was the crush of people wanting to see Mandela’s body in the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria, that the government had asked others to stay away from the park-and-ride facilities set up to take mourners to the area.
“We cannot guarantee that every person who is presently in the queues at the various centers will be given access to the Union Buildings,” the government said in a statement. At least 50,000 people were waiting at park-and-ride points by 0530 GMT.
There were moments of tension as police tried to turn mourners away. At the Pretoria Showgrounds, one of the park-and-ride gathering points, the crowd broke through the metal entrance gate when officers tried to stop people coming through. Some fell to the ground and hundreds streamed past before order was restored.
On another access road, police had to force back people trying to break through crowd barriers.
“I am really angry, we tried for two days now to see Mr Mandela and thank him for changing this country and bringing us together. Now we have to go home with heavy hearts,” said Ilse Steyn of Pretoria.
Winding queues snaked for kilometers (miles) from the government site perched on a hill overlooking the city, well into the heart of the capital.
The body of South Africa’s first black president was lying in state for a third and final day before being flown on Saturday to the Eastern Cape for a funeral on Sunday at his ancestral home in Qunu, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg. Mandela died last week aged 95.
“I don’t mind waiting, today is the last day and I must say thank you. I am who I am and where I am because of this man,” said Johannesburg resident Elsie Nkuna, who said she had taken two days off work to see Mandela.
Filing past the coffin, some pausing to bow, mourners viewed the body laid out in a green and gold batik shirt, a style that he wore and had made famous. His face was visible.
On Friday, his grandchild Mandla sat beside the coffin, acknowledging mourners with smiles.
In the heat of the South African summer, army chaplains and medics handed out bottles of water and sachets of tissues.
SOME MOURNERS GOING HUNGRY
The huge turnout surpassed the two previous days by far. About 21,000 people paid their last respects on Wednesday and 39,000 on Thursday, Presidency Minister Collins Chabane told broadcaster SAfm.
“It is clear to us that we are likely to get more and more people who would like to get the opportunity to see the (former) President before he is transferred to the Eastern Cape,” Chabane said.
Some people had been queuing since Thursday.
“We were hungry and thirsty and did not have money for food. The thought that I must be here to pay respect kept me going,” said Leena Mazubiko, who had traveled from eastern Mpumalanga province.
The week of mourning since Mandela’s death on December 5 has seen an unrivalled outpouring of emotion for the statesman and Nobel peace laureate, who was honored by a host of world leaders at a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
But the homage to a man who was a global symbol of reconciliation has not been without controversy.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who is leading the national mourning ceremonies, was booed by a hostile crowd at Tuesday’s memorial, a worrying sign for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) six months before elections.
There has also been a storm of outrage and questions over a sign-language interpreter accused of miming nonsense at the same memorial. The signer has defended himself, saying he suffered a schizophrenic episode.
Compared to Tuesday’s mass memorial, Sunday’s state funeral at Qunu will be a smaller affair focusing on the family, but dignitaries, including Britain’s Prince Charles and a small group of African and Caribbean leaders, will also attend.
Iranian Vice President Mohammad Shariatmadari will also be at Qunu, but former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had been expected at the funeral, will not attend, a South African foreign ministry spokesman said.
From the United States, civil rights activist Reverend Jessie Jackson was on the list to attend the funeral.
The Qunu event will combine military pomp with traditional burial rituals of Mandela’s Xhosa clan.