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In Soweto, Mandela's Childhood Home Is Site Of Celebration


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Ever since the great anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela died last night, crowds have been gathering outside his former home in Soweto township. This is the house where Mandela lived before he was arrested, before he was imprisoned for 27 years, before he became an icon.

SIEGEL: The mood among the hundreds of people outside the house and throughout the neighborhood was anything but somber.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: People brought their families. They were singing. They were dancing. NPR correspondent Gregory Warner was also there, and he sent us this report.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: It's not just the old Mandela homestead that people were singing and dancing. Even this restaurant, a few blocks away, more than 20 diners got up and broke into song. Victor Sekganstso here with his wife and daughter. He says he just sat down to eat a late lunch.

VICTOR SEKGANSTSO: I don't know. Everybody started singing.

WARNER: Everybody just started singing spontaneously?

SEKGANSTSO: I went up to get something to eat. And when I come back, everybody's up and singing.

WARNER: Victor lived the last 28 years in Texas, but he was born not far from this spot. He spent his childhood in South Africa. He's been to South African funerals. He knows firsthand the truth of the saying that Africans cry in song, but even he was pretty confused by this display of emotion.

SEKGANSTSO: You know, we don't - you don't know if they're happy, they're sad or whatever.

WARNER: You don't know if they're happy or sad?


WARNER: They look happy.

SEKGANSTSO: They look happy to me, but it's a sad day, man. We just lost an icon.

WARNER: How could people seem so happy the day the father of the nation died? A bank clerk named Temba Zulu had one answer.

TEMBA ZULU: Yes, the mood is - I mean, look, we - it's a loss. But us, you know, it's more of a celebration, celebrating the legacy that he has left us with. And then we feel that we need to take the (unintelligible) further in terms of what he stood for and what he believed.

WARNER: Zulu is holding hands with his daughter, age 6. She wasn't born until after Nelson Mandela retired from public life. So today, her father kept her out of school, along with her twin brother, and took them down here. So that even if they never knew Mandela's life, they could connect to his death.

ZULU: We need to, you know, educate them and then - so that they know what he was, what he stood for and then what he, I believe, today our country, it is because of the work that he has done.

WARNER: A little further up the street, there's a political rally. People are dancing in yellow shirts that say ANC, that's the ruling party, the African National Congress. A man on a microphone tells the crowd that Mandela was a great man, but there would have been no Mandela without the ANC. The implication seems clear, vote for the ANC in next year's elections. Most people cheer. ANC is popular here in Soweto.

But one person who remains silent is 53-year-old Nozipho Ndaba in a bright green headscarf. She says, today, she doesn't know today whether to sing or cry.

NOZIPHO NDABA: I don't know how we're supposed to be feeling. This thing should have happened that time when he was sick. That time when we expected him to leave us, to depart, he didn't die. And we know for sure that someone has been - some oxygens have been used. He's been put on hold.

WARNER: That put the country on hold, she says. The decision to put Mandela on oxygen was criticized in parts of South Africa. Ndaba blames politics. Mandela has always been the face of the ANC. She says there were political reasons to keep him alive as long as possible.

NDABA: Now that it's happened, we're relieved, because we feel that wherever he is, he's in no pain, and he's more relaxed.

WARNER: So you can be more relaxed, too?

NDABA: Yeah, we can be more relaxed and we can get our things going here at home.

WARNER: She's already looking ahead to next year when Mandela's funeral is behind us and people go to the polls to choose a new president. With Mandela passed on, she hopes South Africans will get more clear-eyed about their own future.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Johannesburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
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