Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013: South Africa Prepares Its Goodbye 

As the world mourns Mandela, South Africa must steady itself for the logistics of a series of high-profile events that will culminate in the former president’s burial. 

People light candles outside the house of late South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. 
People light candles outside the house of late South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.  STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images

How do you say goodbye to a man whose life has had a profound impact on just about every world leader, sports hero, politician, college student, professor and Hollywood star? How do you capture the impact of that life in a ceremony? How do you memorialize a man who spent almost a third of his life locked away, when his only crime was asking that his people be free, and even on his release held no hate for his captors? And more importantly, where does the body go?

On Thursday Nelson at approximately 1:50 p.m. ET, Nelson Mandela left this world in much better shape than he found it.

Even the sky is in mourning in Johannesburg as CNN reports, gray rain clouds covering the area this morning. Children have used rocks to spell out “We love you Mandela” in front of his home. Some have left stuffed animals, and others lit candles and wept. In Soweto Township residents gathered around the house where Mandela lived before he was arrested in 1962 and sang freedom songs. Across the United States, from D.C. to Los Angeles, flowers and candles were left in front of murals bearing his likeness, CNN reports.

During his 27-year stay in prison for protesting unjust laws, Mandela contracted tuberculosis while working in a lime quarry. Yet years of hard labor in prison couldn’t break Mandela. A racist government couldn’t break Mandela. Tuberculosis stifling his breathing couldn’t break Mandela, who from his deathbed, with tubes running through his mouth into his lungs, continued to fight for a better life.

“On his ‘deathbed’ he is teaching us lessons; lessons in patience, in love, lessons of tolerance,” his daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, told SABC television news earlier this year. “Every moment I get with him I’m amazed. There are times where I have to pinch myself that I come from this man who is a fighter even though you can see he is struggling, but fighting spirit is still there with him.”

In the end his lungs would betray him, as infections became the enemy, and eventually, like most things too good for this world, he passed.    

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela said after he was freed in 1990.

Surrounded by his family in his Houghton, Johannesburg, home Mandela drew his last breath, and what’s left for the rest of the world is a void that will be impossible to fill. What’s left for South Africa are the logistics of trying to bury a man whose spirit, legacy, impact and cultural significance far outlast his physical being.