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Nelson Mandela Lies In State In Pretoria Before Sunday Burial


Yesterday, the world's leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela. Now, the people have their turn. Mandela is lying in state in Pretoria to allow South Africans to bid him a personal farewell. Thousands of mourners filed past the half-open casket. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports the clouds and showers at yesterday's memorial have lifted.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Today, the summer sunshine returned as the funeral cortege carrying the casket of Mr. Mandela drove through the streets of Pretoria early this morning. A military guard of honor, mounted on motorbikes, accompanied the black hearse to the Union Buildings, South Africa's presidency.


QUIST-ARCTON: Officers stood to attention and saluted as the procession arrived in front of the Union Buildings where Mr. Mandela served as president for five years after taking the oath of office in 1994. His grandson and the head of the Mandela clan, Mandla Mandela, received the casket, draped in the South African flag. And then mourners began filing past.

VICTORIA CRISP: I'm Victoria Crisp.

QUIST-ARCTON: You're here at the Union Buildings.

CRISP: Yeah.

QUIST-ARCTON: And how are you feeling?

CRISP: Feeling a little bit unsettled. Very emotional and very mixed emotions. Yeah. But I guess surrounded by thousands of people in the same situation, it's pretty incredible to be a part of that.

QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you. And your name?

ANNESLEY CRISP: I'm Annesley Crisp. I'm Victoria's sister. And it's been a really calming and humbling day. In fact, the last couple of days, seeing South Africans come together exactly, just passing his coffin now, he's looking so calm and still smiling and really, really happy. And I think that's a lesson we need to learn too. If we can go to a more optimistic place sometimes, it's a lot more productive.

QUIST-ARCTON: It's incredible how many children are here. So many of them have Nelson Mandela - either his name printed in gold lettering on their cheeks or tattoos of Nelson Mandela on their arms - all over.

MONICA MODIEGI MOLOTO: Monica Modiegi Moloto is my name. I've just come from seeing our leader, the father of the nation, I've just seen his body there. My heart is really sore.

QUIST-ARCTON: Are these your grandchildren?

MOLOTO: These are my grandchildren, yes. They've just seen the body of Papa Madiba Mandela. They never slept last night. They were saying, Grandma, we are going with you tomorrow. We are going to see Nelson Mandela tomorrow for the last time.

QUIST-ARCTON: Your name?

LETHABO CHANTEL MOLOTO: Lethabo Chantel Moloto. I'm 14 years old and I just saw Nelson Mandela, who, just like, without him I wouldn't have been here and get the education and be where I am. I wouldn't even know how to speak English without him. Your achievement is his achievement.

QUIST-ARCTON: The mood in Pretoria today is calm, somber and respectful, as lines of South Africans continue to gather to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela. He will lie in state here through Friday, after which his mortal remains will be flown to the Eastern Cape for a private burial in Qunu, his rural homestead where he says he spent a very happy childhood. Ofeiba Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Pretoria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.