PRETORIA- Among the huge lines filing past the coffin of Nelson Mandela in the last three days were mourners who had flown halfway around the world to pay their respects to the global freedom icon.
Reflecting the extraordinary reach of Mandela’s influence and popularity, they came from Africa, Europe and beyond to North America and Asia.
Linda Koch, 66, flew from the United States with a friend especially to say a personal farewell to South Africa’s first black president.
“I have always admired Mandela for bringing his people together,” Koch said in a shuttle bus after viewing the liberation hero’s body.
Mandela’s body has been on public view in a glass-top coffin in Pretoria since Wednesday, ahead of its transfer Saturday to his boyhood home of Qunu where it will be buried the following day.
“He has shown his leadership and South Africa, as a country, is so much better as a result of what he did,” said Koch, a retired professor.
“Every country has problems with differences, even mine… I spent 40 years telling my students why it is important to cherish differences, so it was logical to come,” she added.
The two friends decided on the spur of the moment to make the journey after Mandela’s death was announced on December 5.
They flew through Europe, then rushed to Pretoria on Wednesday after arriving in the morning.
Marc Ahiba, a student from the Ivory Coast, initially tried to view the body on Wednesday, but gave up after standing for hours in a line that never seemed to grow any shorter.
On Thursday, he was back early and determined to wait as long as it took.
“I’ve studied a lot about Mandela. I’d like to see him and put a face to what I’ve studied,” he said.
Like many South Africans, some foreigners said they wanted to participate in such a historic moment for such a towering figure.
“I’ve read all the biographies of Mandela. I appreciate his role in history and I just wanted to be a little part of it,” said Briton Ian Weetman, a market manager who has lived in the country since 2011.
Mandela spent 27 years in jail for opposing white-minority apartheid rule.
His subsequent message of forgiveness and equality earned him the Nobel peace prize two decades ago, and worldwide respect.
Wang Luanluan, 29, from China, queued with friends from 3:00am on Friday, after they were turned away the day before.
“This is our last chance,” said Wang
“We were turned back yesterday, so this morning we got up at two o’clock.”
For those who managed to view the body, the emotional impact was profound.
“It’s truly a moving event,” said Sakib Khan, 41, a British national living in South Africa since 2002.