Chinese say their goodbyes
South African embassy overwhelmed by outpouring of love and respect
As world leaders and South Africans braved driving rain and cold to honor Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Bheki Langa was surprised to find out that the former South African president was so loved by young Chinese.
The South African ambassador to China said he was overwhelmed by the emotions expressed by the Chinese since Mandela died on Dec 5.
“We were quite heartened by that. We didn’t know he was so well known and beloved in China,” Langa said in an interview on Tuesday.
Since Mandela’s death, the South African embassy in Beijing has been deluged by messages over the phone and through the Internet.
Chinese have formed long lines outside the embassy waiting for a chance to sign books of condolence.
Zhang Yiwen, 32, who works with the World Food Program China Office, was one of them.
“Mandela was a fighter for freedom and justice. It’s very inspiring that a single person can have such great achievements,” she said. “His spirit not only helped me stay strong when facing the challenges in my life but also encouraged me to help vulnerable groups.”
The South African community in Beijing lit candles to honor Mandela on Tuesday.
“Mandela has served our nation and the world with distinguished dignity, and we will forever remain indebted to him,” said Tebogo Lefifi, the representative of Brand South Africa, a public relations agency of the South African government, at a memorial event in Pinotage, a South African restaurant in Beijing.
“While his passing is a source of sadness, we shall all continue to celebrate his legacy of commitment and service for the improvement of conditions in his own country and around the world,” she added.
Many people at Pinotage left messages on a 5-meter scroll, which will be sent to Mandela’s family in South Africa.
At FNB Stadium in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, Vice- President Li Yuanchao joined more than 90 global leaders to pay respects to the late leader.
As the special representative of President Xi Jinping, Li said Mandela was the pride of the African people.
“For all his life, he had striven for the liberation of African nations, championed the dignity of the African people and endeavored to advance the unity of all African countries and move forward Africa’s cooperation with the world,” Li said at the memorial service.
He switched from Chinese to English, concluding his speech by saying: “Although the great man has left, Mandela’s thought and his spirit will live forever.”
Hong Lei, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday that top Chinese leaders highly respected Mandela.
President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang “give high marks to the important role Mandela played in the anti- apartheid struggle in South Africa and the historical position of the founding of the new South Africa, as well as Mandela’s contribution to the development of China-South Africa relations”, Hong said.
Mandela’s connection with China goes back a long way.
In his memoir Conversations with Myself, Mandela said he was inspired by the work of Mao Zedong and the Chinese revolutionary experiences.
Ambassador Langa said: “The South African people widely know that China was one of the first countries Mandela visited after he walked out of the prison, and one of the last countries he paid a visit to near the end of his presidential term.”
During his presidency in 1998, China and South Africa established diplomatic relations.
“It was remarkable that over only 15 years since diplomatic relations have been established, the economic ties have grown rapidly,” he said.
In Johannesburg, South Africans who attended the memorial were confident that South Africa-China relations will advance with the legacy of Mandela.
“We have a very good relationship with China and hope Chinese people can feel our inspiration as well,” Nancy Dlimina, a 29- year- old university student said. “We must share his spirit for an equal life and love to every one, and take this higher and higher.”
Peter Nkoma, a 44-year-old South African electrical appliance shop owner, said it was Mandela who gave South Africans an equal opportunity to start businesses at home and embrace more international opportunities.
“That’s why we now have more trade ties with China and most of my goods are imported from China,” he said.
He Wenping, an expert on African studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the world is sharing Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation, the power of forgiveness as well as the unswerving pursuit of peace.
But South Africa still faces new challenges, especially the difficulties of realizing equality in economic development, she added.
“This is also why President Zuma said that the goal Mandela pursued still has a long way to go to be achieved,” He said.
Rain does not deter people from crowding into FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday to honor former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Vice-President Li Yuanchao speaks at the memorial for Mandela.
Late South African president Nelson Mandela (left) waves to the audience before delivering a speech at Peking University in 1999 during his state visit to China.