Nelson Mandela died on Thursday 5th December 2013, at a time when we happened to be in Cape Town. His death occurred at 9pm in the evening, so the news was not widely known until the following day. Walking around that Friday, it wasn’t really possible to see any reaction to the news. I guess I had expected there to be a national outpouring of grief – instead there was was very little obvious sign that anything at all had happened. The lack of outward reaction seemed to be the same in the white, black and coloured communities on our side of the mountain – and I was puzzled. One explanation might have been that where we live in Cape Town is quite rural and suburban, and there isn’t a huge amount of street life anyway. To be fair I don’t think people rushed out into the streets in rural England when Diana or Churchill died either.
This seemed to me to be a truly historic moment that wasn’t being particularly marked. The next day, Saturday, I resolved to go into Cape Town City to see what that section of the population was doing. And surprisingly there was an identical lack of reaction. Wandering around the city, you would not have known that anything at all had happened. But what was really going on was a slow build, as the realisation of what had happened started sinking in, and as things started to get organised.
Mandela’s first speech after being freed from Robben Island was from the balcony of City Hall, and it was in front of that, that the City built a memorial and commemorative area, where people could lay flowers and write in a condolence book. That Saturday I bought some flowers, paid my respects, signed the book and remembered being on the “Stop the Tour” anti-apartheid demonstrations in ’69 with M*rk. Press photographers, journalists and TV cameras were ranged up in front of City Hall, and many interviews and reminiscences were being given. Cape Town and indeed the whole of the Western Cape is run by the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to the ANC, and despite all attempts to present it as otherwise, the party of white South Africa (plus a small but increasing black and coloured membership). The ANC is the party of Mandela, but not the rulers of Cape Town. Interestingly, the DA political presence that day was minimal – a wise move, presumably to avoid political debates in a time of mourning. So it was left to the ANC political leadership in the Western Cape to turn up, pay their respects in front of the camera, and make their claim to being the true sons of Mandela. An interesting spectacle – which I photographed, along with the few bystanders starting to gather at the memorial.
Over the week the national realization of just what had happened, and frankly the media focus on the events, brought more people out. The following Sunday, the day of the funeral, was genuinely moving. I went back and spent the day at the same place, and the scene was quite different. I’ll show these in the next post. In the meantime, here are the shots of Cape Town City Hall on Saturday 7th December 2013. As usual, instructions on viewing them are at the end of the post. If you see an error message, try reloading the page (F5).
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