Guest column: Dame Janet Suzman on Mandela’s ‘astonishing’ funeral

Dame Janet Suzman

Dame Janet Suzman - Credit: Archant

Actor and director Dame Janet Suzman - niece of anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman - gives her take on Nelson Mandela and his “astonishing” funeral.

This entire morning I have been immersed in the spectacle of Mandela’s funeral celebration in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium – astonishing, uplifting, noisy, sodden.

See the smugly inscrutable Robert Mugabe hunched in his seat glimmering darkly at those damned cheers from the crowd, then a glimpse of the thoughtful stillness of Graca Machel, entirely worthy of her name.

The etched grimness of Winnie Mandela’s handsome face fronting the phalanx of Mandela offspring, some texting away furtively behind their elders.

A flash of the glorious crimson robes gracing the last of the great old men, Bishop Tutu, beneath that puckish grin – for whom we had to wait forever to hear his wholly original voice.

Barack Obama’s superb oratory returned to him in this African stadium and he made the best and freshest eulogy of them all.

But most significant of all the speechifying and dancing and singing and toyi-toying was the unmistakeable barrage of booing that greeted Jacob Zuma.

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Try though he might to calm the crowd and introduce a little control before the President’s speech, Cyril Ramaphosa – whom, if I may use the phrase, was once the white hope for occupancy of the presidential seat – began to get strict and schoolmasterly.

The celebration had turned political.

I had met Mandela several times, and it’s all true; he was unforgettable.

Always elegant, gentle, formally informal, deferring to others yet commanding the heights.

A magical talent for making you feel singular, though he was the one who was.

So really there’s nothing that a non-participant nobody like me can possibly add to the surges and swells and rivers of praise of Mandela’s achievements that pour from every mouth, hourly, daily. It’s all quite overwhelming.

It is not over yet. The burial at Qunu is still to happen, overlooking the hillsides that baby Mandela first saw in his extraordinary and long life.

And then it will be over and a legend with a legacy is born.

The people are split between loving the man and his party and hating the way the ANC is governing – or failing to. The people in the stadium made that clear today, and I deeply hope that those wise men who are still left to realise it, will elbow the man in the seat, and build houses and stop corruption, and build the South Africa we all dream of. What a ride its having; South Africa is a very exciting country.