Deluge Of Tributes To Mandela Continues

Crowds have gathered outside two of Nelson Mandela's former homes in Johannesburg, including one in the black township of Soweto. Although the official funeral is next week, NPR's Gregory Warner tells host Scott Simon that South Africans are paying informal tribute this weekend.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Tributes continue to pour in for Nelson Mandela who died Thursday night at his home in Johannesburg. Crowds have gathered outside of two of his homes in that city, including his former home in the township of Soweto. They have been singing, chanting and dancing...

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SIMON: ...to celebrate the man considered the father of South Africa. The official funeral is next week but this weekend South Africans are paying personal and informal tributes. NPR's Gregory Warner is there. Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: And it looks like one amazing scene after another. Can you tell us what you're seeing?

WARNER: You know, when I'm looking right now, I see an ice cream cart, I see people selling T-shirts. It's a bit like a street fair and people are milling around, sharing stories, smiling at each other. There's a real celebratory mood and when I talk to people they say, look, we're trying to celebrate the man's legacy; we're not trying to mourn the man. But there's also a sense of relief.

Nelson Mandela was critically ill for almost six months and people feel that now he's not in pain, now he's at peace.

SIMON: What aspects of Nelson Mandela, his story, his character, his image seem to mean most to people?

WARNER: It's hard to capture how much Nelson Mandela means to South Africans. Obviously to the rest of the world he's an anti-apartheid leader, but here he's the father of the nation. I talked to one young man, 26 years old from Soweto. He said he keeps thinking that Mandela is going to rise up again in three days. He's that kind of figure in South Africa. Absolutely pivotal.

At the same time, people have been saying goodbye for a while. He's been struggling with respiratory illness for three years and he's been critically ill for six. So there is a sense that people feel that they're ready to take on a future, and as they say, take the bait, be the next Mandela. A lot of people talk like that.

SIMON: Greg, Mr. Mandela dies at a time when the African National Congress is under a lot of criticism and controversy for their leadership. I'm wondering how Mr. Mandela's passing plays out.

WARNER: It's very important aspect. Mr. Mandela is the face of the ANC, the African National Congress. Right here at this memorial, as you can hear, there's a drum circle in the background. That's sponsored by the ANC. There's very much a sense that they want to claim this day. People are saying that Mandela would have been nothing without the ANC.

At the same time, though, consumer confidence in South Africa is at a 20-year low. These political questions, though, have been put on hold while Mr. Mandela has been struggling for his life. There's going to be an election next year and there's a sense that maybe next year, with Mandela passed on, people will be able to make a clear-eyed decision about their future.

SIMON: The world, in many ways, is coming to South Africa in the coming days to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela. What can we expect?

WARNER: Well, it's a fairly long - it's a ten-day process. On Sunday is a day of prayer in South Africa and then on Tuesday is the official memorial. Mr. Mandela's remains will be moved to the administrative capitol, Pretoria. And then finally there's going to be a funeral next weekend in Qunu, which is his ancestral family home. It's, of course, going to be a Xhosa funeral, his tribal affiliation being Xhosa.

And I'll say to you that I just met these two women, both of them Xhosa. One, a policewoman and the other a traditional dancer, and they sung me a Xhosa song. It's going to be something like we'll hear at that funeral next weekend, so Scott, maybe I'll say goodbye to you a little early and we'll just play listeners that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: NPR's Greg, thanks so much.

WARNER: Thanks very much, Scott.

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