A Lawrence woman was one of 100,000 people who viewed the body of former South African President Nelson Mandela as it lay in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa this week.
Donna Reynolds, 61, of Lawrence, has been volunteering with Project Hope, UK in a township outside Johannesburg since June. On Thursday, she and a fellow volunteer traveled the hour north to Pretoria, where people waited in mile-long lines to catch a glimpse of Mandela’s remains during the three-day viewing.
Mandela died Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
“Mostly, the feeling was one of celebration,” Reynolds said. “I can’t say enough about how peaceful everyone was, and how friendly. There was a very warm, wonderful feeling that you got from everyone.”
Reynolds and a 17-year-old South Africa native who accompanied her, named Teboho, arrived in Pretoria on Thursday afternoon. Reynolds was soon approached by a police officer who directed her to a shorter line for senior citizens.
She took her place in line at 2 p.m., and was able to view Mandela’s remains three hours later.
As they approached the casket, people became silent and removed sunglasses and hats, Reynolds said. Some people paused for a few seconds to say a little prayer while filing by, but police officers kept the line moving.
“The man in front of me did break down crying,” Reynolds said. “He was sobbing, and a policeman came over and took him by the shoulder. Another handed him a Kleenex and asked if he needed water. They really took care of things.”
After spending the night in a hotel near the Union Buildings, Reynolds and Teboho woke at 3:30 a.m. to get in line again. They took their place in the queue at 4 a.m. Reynolds waited with Teboho for almost 10 hours before he got the chance to view the body at 2 p.m.
Reynolds said groups of 20 to 50 people would spontaneously begin singing and dancing in line. And, during the hours spent waiting, she and Teboho were able to talk about the anti-apartheid leader with many others, including an elderly man who drove six hours from Durban to see the remains.
“He was in line behind me, and we reminisced about Mandela’s struggle,” Reynolds said. “Many people in line were in their 20s and 30s, and they certainly recognized what a powerful figure Mandela was and what he had done for them and their families. They talked about that a lot.”
According to the Associated Press, Mandela’s body was flown via military plane from Pretoria to South Africa’s Eastern Cape province on Saturday. A private funeral will be held Sunday in Mandela’s childhood village, Qunu.
Reynolds plans to return to Lawrence next week.