By Alejandro Nicolas / Staff Writer
Sethunya Mokoko Gall, a creative writing major, stood in front of Nelson Mandela for the last time Dec. 13, in Pretoria, South Africa carrying only a black plastic shopping bag reading “Madiba” in gold lettering.
Arriving a day earlier than he expected, Mokoko Gall took a taxi from Johannesburg and traveled directly to Pretoria with his sister, Mapase Mokoko. “There were no directions to the event, every taxi in South Africa drove to one destination.”
Vehicles covered their windows with newspapers of Mandela’s face taped to the back and sides of their glass. “As soon as I stepped out of the taxi, I felt pride and joy. Suddenly I was part of something important. I was part of the land I love.” Mokoko Gall immigrated to the U.S. at a young age after the sudden demise of both his parents. He taught himself English with National Geographic magazines and a dictionary and he learned how to write sentences.
The now 23-year-old said, “There were people selling ice creams outside and thousands all around waiting in line to see Mandela. It was hot, but because of their dedication, they stayed.”
Many people were dressed in traditional blankets. Others wore dresses and hats. “Some of the people in the streets were in denial, almost not acknowledging his death, pretending almost like he was alive. “So many were waiting outside to give gifts,” he said.
“Sometimes I feel a disconnection from Africa because I’ve lived in America for so long. I sometimes feel torn, but when I walked passed Mandela’s black coffin and saw it covered in cow skin and later with the flag of South Africa, I knew this was my home.” No cameras were allowed to document the final burial of Mandela in Qunu near Capetown on Dec. 15.
“Mandela forever changed Africa and now because he is gone, Africa will change again.”