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Sowetans revive struggle spirit to pay tribute to MandelaPublish Date: Dec 06, 2013
Sowetans revive struggle spirit to pay tribute to Mandela
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A man wearing a yellow ANC T-shirt grieves with other people on December 6, 2013 outside the house of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg (AFP, Stephane de Sakutin)

Singing old struggle songs and marching to the slogans that catapulted Soweto to the frontline of South Africa's liberation fight, mourners on Friday paid a lively tribute to their beloved leader Nelson Mandela outside his former home.

"Wherever he is, I can assure you he is listening and is smiling," said Kabelo Noe, 39, who joined some 200 people dancing in front of Mandela's old house, now a museum and a popular tourist attraction.

"There will never be another man like Mandela in South Africa," he said, stamping his feet in a move known as toyi-toyi, a protest dance harking back to the marches against apartheid.

After learning of Mandela's death at the age of 95 late on Thursday, locals in Soweto, the bedrock of black resistance against white minority rule, rushed to the residence on the outskirts of Johannesburg to celebrate the revered statesman's life.

"There is no need to cry, we are celebrating," said Dean Gulwa, a member of the South African Communist party, which is in a ruling alliance with Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).

Mourners, some wearing the yellow t-shirts of Mandela's ANC party, lay flowers and lit candles outside his home in what was once a blacks-only township.

Nearby, crowds sang songs in Mandela's native isiXhosa language, punctuated by a raising of fists and the popular slogan "Amandla! Awethu!", roughly translated as "Power to the people!"

"A life well lived," said 38-year-old doctor Mahlodi Tau, remembering her hero.

"He has finished the race and he fought a good fight," she said, quoting the apostle Paul from the Bible.

Mandela lived in the Soweto house with his then-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela before he went underground in the early 1960s.

Upon his release after 27 years in an apartheid prison he briefly returned to the house in Vilakazi Street -- the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have lived.

Mandela spent the final years of his life in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.

Many in Soweto said they had dreaded the inevitable, though the ailing statesman's poor health in recent years had prepared them for his approaching death.

"Over 95 years, it's not child's play. We dreaded this day when the gentle giant was going to die," said Sifiso Mnisi, who scribbled messages on his car honouring the "father of the nation".

"My Black President", "You fought against black and white domination, dankie (thank you) son", were some of the tributes he wrote in black and red markers.

'He gave us freedom'

Beautician Cynthia Mmusi, 35, said she would dedicate the coming weeks to Mandela's memory.

"We are what we are because of Tata. He meant everything to us," she said, using a term of endearment for Mandela that means 'father'.

"He was like a father to all of us. We are going to celebrate his life the whole of December," added Mmusi, after keeping vigil outside the house throughout the night with her three-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.

A stream of well-wishers from outside Soweto poured into the area's Orlando suburb on Friday, adding to a sense of joyful remembrance of a colourful life.

"I drove all the way from Pretoria to remember and pay tribute to someone that was so significant and gave freedom to people who he had never met," said white South African Liska Leslie, whose family lit white candles for Mandela.

Soweto, short for 'southwestern township', became the epicentre of the struggle against white rule from the 1960s.

It is remembered for some of the most vicious protests such as the 1976 Soweto uprising when police opened fired on thousands of rioting youngsters and killed more than 170.

The shooting death of 13-year-old Hector Pietersen at the time became one of the struggle's leading examples of police brutality. A museum was opened in the boy's honour, not far from Mandela's house.


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