Most of us can’t recall where we were or how old we may have been when we first learned of Nelson Mandela’s life and struggle. But few of us will ever forget where we were on December 5, 2013, the day of his death. I was stuck in New York City traffic, inwardly cursing the driver, and mere inches—yet another half an hour in NYC traffic—from my hotel room in Times Square. My cell rang, and my friend broke the news that South Africa’s tireless freedom fighter had been called home to rest.Coincidentally, I was headed to South Africa the next day.
In Johannesburg, two days after his passing, the mourners flooded the streets, hotel lobbies and retail stores. Photos of him filled the newspapers. Documentaries and news interviews of him looped endlessly on television channels. The hysteria continued until he was finally buried December 15. Acquaintances from all walks of life, from dignitaries to domestics, reflected on his impact at major berths around the nation.
In Nelson Mandela Square, hundreds queued up and patiently waited to snap a pic with the nearly 20-foot statue in his likeness and piled flowers near its feet. Close to 100 world leaders attended his public memorial in Soweto on a rainy day, sharing their thoughts and memories of Mandela with tens of thousands of South Africans braving the rain, a sign of a life well lived. At Table Mountain in Cape Town, the ticker, positioned where visitors board the train, displayed tweets of love and sadness for the beloved Madiba. Countless people waited hours to view his body in Pretoria, with many being turned away on the final day.