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Crowds Line Up to Pay Mandela Last Respects

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December 11, 2013

Thousands of people stood for hours in the blazing heat for a chance to get a last glimpse of Nelson Mandela, the South African resistance leader-turned-president who died on December 5 at age 95, his life a symbol of hope and equality to millions around the world.

It was the first of three days of lying in state for the body of Mandela, transported from a nearby hospital to an amphitheater below the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of power that Mandela claimed as South Africa's first black president in 1994. Government officials later announced that the amphitheater would be named in his honor.

Government officials and dignitaries were the first in line. Among the first to pause at the dome-covered open casket were current South African President Jacob Zuma, former President F.W. de Klerk (the last apartheid-era leader, who shared with Mandela the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize), Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Mandela's two surviving wives, Winnie Mandela and Graca Machel, and Mandela's grandson Mandla. A military honor guard was nearby, and a military band played the national anthem.

Earlier, the hearse carrying Mandela's casket had made its slow journey from a nearby hospital to the lying-in-state site. Large crowds of people lined the route. Shops along the way were closed.

Officials did not anticipate the number of people turning up to stand in line. The wait soon numbered in the hours, but most of the people waiting in line said the wait would be worth it, wanting to pay their respects to the man who had made such a difference in the political landscape of their country. Time and again was heard "Hamba Kahle," a Zulu phrase that means "go well."

As with the memorial service in Johannesburg a day before, people were directed onto buses that stopped near the Union Buildings. Mourners were direced to stamp a finger, so that officials could prevent multiple visits.

The lying-in-state will last for three days, after which Mandela's body will be taken by military aicraft to Mthatha and then for a funeral service and, finally, burial to the remote village of Qunu, where Mandela grew up and also spent much of his later life.

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