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Local ANC leader Desmond Mangamye, dressed in a black, gold and green ANC tracksuit and white leather loafers, said the party would not let the world forget the movement that raised Mandela.
“People want to separate him from the movement, but you can't,” said Mangamye. “It was the movement that made him an icon.”
While the ANC was the loudest and largest contingent, the crowd included preschoolers singing “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika” (God Bless Africa) and what appeared to be a contingent of white-collar employees from Lonmin — the mining company where 34 workers were killed by police last year during a strike. They wore soccer jerseys that read “Lonmin United.” “No comment,” one said when asked if they were the company soccer team.
It's been said to the point of cliche that Mandela brought people together, but this achievement is appreciated when it's understood how South Africa was once divided — and still is in many ways.
Informal vendor Charles Zulu keeps a small stand selling handicrafts and artwork on Vilakazi Street. His normal mode of dress is traditional, with kudu-skin boots, bracelets and headbands.
As a teenager, Zulu was a member of the youth wing of the Pan-African Congress, an organization that believed firmly in “Africa for Africans” and split off from the ANC in the late 1950s as the latter embraced nonracialism.
“We were too radical because they said a white person must go back to Europe,” Zulu recalled. “We must take the land and drive the whites out of South Africa.”
But his mind was changed when Mandela visited his school in 1991.
“When we were shaking hands, I felt something,” said Zulu.
“When Mandela came out he said, 'You must forgive and forget. We must come together.' That's why I loved him.”