JOHANNESBURG — FAMILY members were allowed into his room in pairs or in threes and allowed private moments with him.
We had been preparing a long time for the day that Nelson Mandela would be with us no more.
It came as no surprise after half a year of illness.
But despite the preparation, when the news was announced by President Jacob Zuma it felt like a punch in the gut.
The words “Mandela has died . . .” are awkward, clumsy and difficult to say. They did not come easily in those late night hours.
Earlier last week there were hints that something was up, first with Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe’s unusual comment that her father was putting up a courageous fight from his “deathbed” where “he is teaching us lessons; lessons in patience, in love, lessons of tolerance”.
Last Tuesday night, Zuma learnt of Mandela’s deteriorating condition and that his death was imminent.
Last Wednesday, word came from his house in Houghton that his already critical condition had worsened. He was fading fast.
Mandela had not spoken a single word for months. He was unable to breathe without medical intervention and was receiving dialysis treatment.
But the danger of life supporting machines is that tubes can become infected or blocked and during his long hospitalisation first in Pretoria’s Heart Hospital and then at home in a room transformed into an intensive care unit, Mandela had to undergo several surgical procedures.
Different sources tell different tales.
“There was more fluid on his lungs, but this time it was too difficult to do anything,” one said.
“He had contracted a serious infection and was antibiotic resistant,” another said.
“His blood pressure was so low that there was little doctors could do,” a third said.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, urgently summoned the family to his deathbed.
At first they came slowly, but by Thursday it was a lot more frantic. The family was dispersed: Grandson Mandla cancelled a trip to Cape Town on Friday and flew to Johannesburg.
Younger daughters Zenani and Zindzi were in London for the premiere of The Long Walk to Freedom with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife, Kate.
Moments before her father’s death, Zindzi told reporters on the red carpet: “My father is fine. He’s 95-years-old and he is pretty frail. We are hoping to see more of him.”
But back home, he was entering the final moments of his life. His former wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, was there and preparing to stay overnight. Those in the house speak of an overwhelming sadness that engulfed it.
Family members were allowed into his room in pairs or in threes and allowed private moments with him.
Household members watched as grandchildren and extended family left the bedroom sobbing.
Alongside Graça and Winnie, were grandchildren Mandla, his brother, Mbuso, and granddaughter Ndileka.
At about 8:50pm Mandela died.
Zuma was informed and asked to go to the house as quickly as possible. He then left for the Union Buildings to announce the news to the nation.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
Mandela was always able to talk to anyone from any walk of life. He was always sure to remember the hidden people, those who were seldom acknowledged.
Many predicted bloodshed and hatred following his death and that our tears would overwhelm us. But they forget who we are: Madiba’s children, whose grief quickly became an explosion of song and dance.
Outside Mandela’s Houghton home, a beautiful shrine of candles, flowers and loving tributes sprang up.
At midnight on Friday, 24 hours after the announcement of his death, South Africans, black and white, young and old, rich and poor were dancing up and down his street singing: Nelson Mandela, my President.
This was the send-off Nelson Mandela would have adored. Song, dance, jubilation and tears of joy. I suspect Madiba was looking on, smiling his approval, with a twinkle in his eye.
— City Press