RETORIA: South Africans will get a second chance Thursday to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, a day after his distraught widow joined thousands of mourners at his open casket.
Graca Machel, clad in a black headdress with her eyes shielded by sunglasses, placed both hands on the raised coffin before turning away disconsolate on Wednesday.
At each end of the casket stood two navy officers clad in white dress uniform, heads bowed, eyes closed and swords pointing downward.
Underneath a perspex screen the anti-apartheid icon Mandela lay, dressed in a printed brown shirt of the type that became his trademark.
Later, presidents, royalty and thousands of South Africans made their own pilgrimage.
Some stopped briefly to pray, some bowed, some brushed against the rope balustrade to get a closer look at the mortal remains of a man who had earned a place in history long before his death.
Some collapsed, felled by the weight of their grief, before being helped away by medical personnel or fellow onlookers.
A blind man with a cane passed by, helped by an aide.
“I was just feeling sad when I saw him lying there as if he can wake up. As if I can say ‘Mr Mandela, how are you?'” said 44-year-old Anna Mtsoweni, who had joined the queue before dawn.
Among the dignitaries were Mandela’s former political foe FW de Klerk, ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and musician and activist Bono.
The Irish rocker accompanied Mandela’s long time aide-de-camp Zelda Le Grange, who appeared heartbroken and needed to be supported throughout.
Thousands more people who were in the queue, which at one point stretched for around one and a half kilometres (a mile), were unable to complete their mission.
They, along with thousands of others, will get another chance on Thursday.