Gogos in ‘rain or shine’ tribute – and it poured
They stood undeterred for Mandela
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.”
TRAVELLER: Gogo Mpho Marobe from Rustenburg.