Anger as thousands miss out on seeing Nelson Mandela lying in state

PRETORIA, South Africa — Huge queues of people waited, some of them for two days, to see the body of former South African President Nelson Mandela lying in state in Pretoria. But thousands more were turned away disappointed as viewing ended Friday.

Tempers frayed and scuffles broke out in front of the Union Buildings, the seat of government, where the casket spent three days, and at locations where people lined up to take shuttle buses to the site. Police were deployed to control the crowds, with some people trying to break through police barricades at the Union Buildings to get to see the body.

The casket left the Union Buildings for the final time Friday afternoon, draped in a South African flag. Thousands lined the streets hoping for a last glimpse of the cortege on its way back to the military hospital in Pretoria where it was to spend its final night before being flown Saturday to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape tomorrow. He will be buried Sunday in his home village of Qunu.

The state funeral will involve about 4,500 people, but only the extended family will be present for the final stage when the body is interred.

“I’m grieving, I’m mourning, I’m disappointed to the core,” said Nomathasanqa Linda, 32, who had been waiting Friday at one of the shuttle bus stops since early morning and all day Thursday, leaving a 7-month old baby at home. “We were supposed to be ferried there to say goodbye. I wish there was something better than this that could have been planned.

“They should have told us. Everything they say, we say, ‘Yes boss.’ Everything they say, it goes,” she said.

Some people slept overnight in line so that they could see the casket.

There was anger about the poor organization, and the inadequate numbers of buses to ferry people to the Union Buildings, and at times few people were filing past the coffin.

The government announced that 92,000 were lined up by 11 a.m. and shut down access to the shuttle buses.

“Why can’t they let us walk to the Union Buildings?” said Helani Chauke, 19.

Sikhatele Dube, 29, who lined up for two days, she said the anger was an echo of people’s frustration at other government failures and that it helped explain why South African President Jacob Zuma was booed at the memorial service for Mandela on Tuesday.

“This is Mandela we are talking about,” she added complaining about the lack of buses. “We will vote next time for this small boy, Julius Malema,” she said, referring to an opposition politician.

Eric Malema, who is unrelated to the opposition leader, waited Thursday, then arrived at 6 a.m. and waited another seven hours only to be turned away.

“I think the planning wasn’t good enough because we stood here from 5 but we still failed to go and see him,” Malema said.

“He did so much for us. We are going to miss his leadership. You won’t see anyone with the same values as him,” he said.

Several hundred people milled at the door of the Union Buildings, having just missed the cut-off point after 5 p.m.

They sang mournful hymns and consoled themselves that they did try to see Mandela, who died Dec. 5.

As the casket left the Union Buildings after 5 p.m., a brass band played the national anthem and those outside the building joined in. The casket passed the front of the building one last time, with the late president’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, chief of the family’s clan, seated in the front seat looking somber.

Thousands of people lined the roadsides in Pretoria for a last glimpse of the cortege, but it took a different route than in the morning and even they were left disappointed.

“He’s left a big vacuum, no one will fill that vacuum. There’s no one like Madiba,” Linda said, referring the Nelson Mandela by his clan name.

Twitter: @latimesdixon

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