On Thursday, we decided to pay our last respects to Nelson Mandela, whose body was lying in state at the Union Buildings here in Pretoria. It wasn't that I particularly wanted to go; it was more a feeling that I would regret not having gone. Also, I wanted our oldest daughter to witness history up close and personal.
We got to one of three authorised "park and rides" which would bus people to the Union Buildings. The queue was quite long. I regretted not having brought sunscreen or an umbrella to protect against the sun, but as the queue was moving fairly quickly, I calculated that we wouldn't be there more than an hour or two.
SEVEN hours later, just as we got to the front of the queue, we were informed that no more busses would be coming that day and we needed to go home. I was a bit disappointed, but more than that - I was hungry, thirsty, and sunburnt to a crisp! My first thought was, "What a waste of a day!" A few hours later (after a good meal and several glasses of water), I had a change of heart.
When you stand in a queue with people for seven hours, you begin to chat with them to pass time. Our conversation began with small talk - what's your name, what do you do for a living, etc. Two hours later we moved onto favourites: what's your favourite colour, food, movie, etc. Four hours later we were holding each other's place in line to go search for food. Five hours later we were all huddled under one umbrella, trying to avoid the hot African sun and laughing about the difference between rural South African customs and the culture in big cities. Six hours later we were sharing our hopes, dreams, fears, regrets and longings. Seven hours later, when they dispersed the crowd, we were fellow travellers on this journey called life, compatriots of South Africa with a new respect and admiration for one another.
Did I get to see Nelson Mandela? No, but I can honestly say it was one of the most enriching days of my life. And maybe - just maybe - that was the best way we could have paid respects to the legacy of Mandela.