Family of Nelson Mandela tells of grief and pain

South Africans sing and dance to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela outside his former home in Soweto on Saturday.
(Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Members of Nelson Mandela’s family spoke for the first time Saturday of their grief at losing a “great man, a pillar of the family,” who was always humble, despite his global fame.

Mandela’s family, deeply sensitive about the intense global media interest in his upcoming funeral, is walking a difficult line between a need for privacy to grieve, and the sense that Mandela belonged to to the world.

The family is deeply concerned about the possibility of photographs circulating of Mandela lying in state, according to a spokeswoman for the Government Communication and Information System. Cellphones and cameras will be banned for those who wish to view him lying in state.

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Military doctors Saturday were preparing Mandela’s body, government officials said.

“The pillar of the family is gone, just as he was away during that 27 painful years of imprisonment,” said family spokesman Gen. Templeton Matanzima on Saturday. He read a statement to journalists but took no questions.

“His presence was like a baobab tree that provided a comforting shade that served as protection and security for us,” he said.

He said the two days since Mandela’s death had been difficult, “and it won’t be pleasant in the days to come.”


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“We have lost a great man, a son of the soil, whose greatness in our family was in the simplicity of his nature,” he said on behalf of the family.

Mantanzima thanked South Africans and the world for their messages of support.

President Obama called Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, on Saturday to convey his condolences.


Access will be tightly controlled to the major public events marking Mandela’s passing, which begin with a memorial service Tuesday at a soccer stadium in Soweto and three days of lying in state, according to government officials.

A two-mile security cordon is to be placed around Qunu, Mandela’s home village, where he is to be buried Dec. 15.

One of the main opportunities for South Africans to memorialize Mandela before his burial will be when his coffin travels each day from the military hospital mortuary in Pretoria through the streets of the city to the seat of government at the Union Buildings.

Government officials are encouraging members of the public to line the route, rather than to try to get into the Union Buildings to witness him lying in state.



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