Go­gos in ‘rain or shine’ trib­ute – and it poured

They stood un­de­terred for Man­dela

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NELSON 1918-2013 - THABISO THAKALI

A RE­LENT­LESS rain poured through the cal­abash-shaped rooftop of the FNB Sta­dium and hit the pitch side – where 67- year- old granny Mpho Marobe sat – so hard, it sent her and the crowd scur­ry­ing to the rafters.

Be­hind them they left a swathe of empty seats on the lower tier of the sta­dium, where in 1990, af­ter his re­lease from prison, Nel­son Man­dela ad­dressed a ca­pac­ity- filled crowd.

Marobe, in her brown and gold tra­di­tional dress and a match­ing head scarf, hob­bled on the slip­pery ramp be­hind the north western stand as­sisted by a mar­shall.

The down­pour al­most drowned out the crowd’s singing, yet the es­ti­mated 50 000 mourn­ers, some cov­ered in plas­tic and a sea of um­brel­las to keep out the rain, were rap­tur­ous and anx­ious to pay ho­mage.

It was a huge day for them, not only be­cause Man­dela was the world’s most revered and fa­mous leader, but be­cause this was the first day in a long time peo­ple could get to­gether and show their de­vo­tion to him as a na­tion.

In be­tween the jeer­ing and cheer­ing of dig­ni­taries, the rain rat­tled on as Marobe told of her jour­ney of al­most 200km from Rusten­burg to the FNB Sta­dium.

It took her sev­eral hours on a bus, a sleep­over at a stranger’s place in Mabopane, and a 3am train from Pre­to­ria to Joburg.

She had packed a lunch box of pap and beef stew in her black sports bag, which be­came sandwiched be­tween brown shoes, a jacket and a rain­coat.

She had left her warmer clothes at home hang­ing on the line, so when the wind started

‘He in­spired us with hope. I think

blow­ing in her di­rec­tion she hud­dled and rubbed her hands to­gether, blow­ing hot air to keep warm.

“I ran in the rain to the sta­tion in Mabopane at 3am to be here on time so I could re­lax and get warm,” she said.

“I wasn’t here in 1990 when Man­dela was re­leased from jail. I had to be here to­day. I have al­ways been at Man­dela’s side in spirit since then, and now that he is gone I had to come to set him free be­cause I loved him a lot.”

She spoke of how Man­dela had grown closer to her heart for serv­ing 27 years in prison to free the coun­try from the shack­les of apartheid, and preach­ing unity.

She grabbed and wrung the bot­tom part of her rain-soaked jersey be­fore lift­ing it up to dry.

She de­clared: “His ( Man­dela’s) soul can now rest in peace and I some­what feel like my own heart will be at ease now. I knew I had to come here, come rain or shine.”

A few blocks be­low where Marobe sat was white-haired 81- year- old Maud Ban­nis­ter, from Parkview. She might have rather re­treated to the com­fort of her couch at home and watched the me­mo­rial on tele­vi­sion, but de­cided in favour of the plas­tic chair high up in the stand.

Shield­ing her eyes with her hand from the sun’s glare through a gap in the dark clouds on the orange seats, Ban­nis­ter looked up and asked: “How could I miss this?”

She was part of a swirl of masses of all races and ages who came to hon­our Madiba this week.

She had come to the sta­dium even though her back was sore, forc­ing her to spend re­cent days in­doors at her home to re­cover.

But when her younger neigh­bour told her she was com­ing to the sta­dium to pay trib­ute, she vol­un­teered to come along, in­sist­ing they do so even when they woke up with the rain pelt­ing down.

Ban­nis­ter had last been to the FNB Sta­dium dur­ing the Soc­cer World Cup, the last time Man­dela was also seen pub­licly, driven on to the pitch dur- ing the clos­ing cer­e­mony – and she felt obliged to come again be­cause “Man­dela was a good man”.

“I thought he was re­ally a great guy. I came here for him, my­self and my grand­chil­dren so they can know how great this man was to all of us,” she said, gaz­ing at the lin­ger­ing clouds.

“He was a mir­a­cle man. I am saddened by his death but I think he suf­fered a lot in re­cent times. Three years ago he looked fine, but now he looked ter­ri­ble.”

Ban­nis­ter saw the weather as a fit­ting trib­ute to the great man.

She thought it could be a sign that the heav­ens were open­ing up to wel­come Madiba.

“We will all re­mem­ber him for in­spir­ing us with so much hope,” she said. “I think its be­fit­ting that there are show­ers to send him off and spread his legacy of love.”

Af­ter al­most eight hours, much of it spent stand­ing to get the best view of the stage where Man­dela’s fam­ily sat, both women were still smil­ing, show­ing un­yield­ing en­ergy.

“Now I can go back home and have a peace­ful sleep,” said Marobe. “My heart is at ease. I saw what I came here to see and he ( Man­dela) can rest in peace.”

PIC­TURES: THABISO THAKALI

TRAV­ELLER: Gogo Mpho Marobe from Rusten­burg.

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