When I woke up that morning, the morning of the 13th of December 2013, I knew I had to hurry. I had to be early at work so that I could be able to stand for a guard of honour as the cortège of the late Nelson Mandela drove past Madiba Street in the City of Tshwane. The City of Tshwane has never been the same since the passing on of the former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on the 5th of December 2013. Little did I know what was in store for me on that day?

I had to drop my husband off at his work place before proceeding to mine. We had the radio on in the car and I had updates of what was happening in the streets of Tshwane. I avoided the streets where I will be stuck in traffic so I can make it on time. At some stage, there was an uncomfortable silence in the car as I wanted to drive past all the cars in front of me. I was very agitated when the traffic became slow. I eventually dropped my husband off and hurriedly drove into the inner city.

I heard on the radio that the cortège was already in Madiba Street and that multitudes of people have formed the guard of honour and there was a lot of singing and praises for Madiba. I knew I would not make it to my destination and decided to make a turn into Stanza Bopape Street. I needed a place where I can safely park my car and walk to Madiba Street as many streets were already cordoned off at that point in time.

At the corner of Nelson Mandela and Stanza Bopape Streets, I saw an opportunity to park my car on a very small space. I was illegally parked there but I was not the only one. All I could think about was that desperate times call for desperate measures. If I get a parking ticket, it did not matter. I had to have a last glimpse of Madiba’s cortège.

I literary ran towards Madiba Street and as I approached the barricaded area, I scanned where it would be easier for me to stand and still be able to see. There was no space for me. Everyone wanted to be closer to the barricade to see properly. At the very corner of Nelson Mandela and Madiba Street, I squeezed past a number of people just to have some view. I could not see much as I am short and wore very flat shoes.

A white woman was standing in front of me. Slowly, I gradually shifted in front of her and was eventually exactly against the barricade. I was satisfied; I was at a very symbolic spot, corner Nelson Mandela and Madiba Street to watch Tata Madiba, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on his last journey to the Union Buildings.

The white woman did not seem to mind that I was now standing in front of her. I just thought she was taller than me; she wouldn’t have a problem with me standing in front of her. She was carrying a purple azalea flower with a long stem in her hand and held her cell phone higher with her other hand taking a picture or a video of the proceedings.

She seemed very much pre-occupied with her thoughts and I decided not to bother her. The cortège was fast approaching our spot and there was deafening silence as it came closer. The only noise was that of the military helicopter flying above us.

My heart started beating fast. I tried to take a picture with my phone but my phone’s memory was full. I then tried the video and I only managed to take three seconds of the military helicopter and the video space was also full as well. I was as frustrated. I watched the motorbikes, then Madiba’s hearse pass. I was overcome by emotions and just silently stood there and watched. I heard the white woman’s piercing voice scream above my head, “Nelson Mandela!” And then pure silence.

I was absorbed in my own thoughts; thinking what this great legend meant for all South Africans and the World. My lips silently moved to say bye-bye Tata. Behind me I could hear the white woman sobbing softly. I tried very hard not to look at her cause I was likely to cry if I saw her face. Right at that moment, I felt the urge to do something I have never done before. This woman needed someone to console her and I could not just ignore her. As I turned to face her, I saw pain in her eyes as tears rolled down her cheeks. My inner motherly instinct got the better of me and I had to do something.

I opened my arms as a gesture to hug her and she responded by hugging me back. She held on to me and let her sobs out to a full cry. We both tightened our grip on each other for what felt like eternity and I also started to cry. We clung to each other as we cried our hearts out. At the time, we did not even think about what people around us were doing or thinking about us. We let go for a second and changed sides and hugged again. Letting go at that time was just not an option. I whispered softly in her ear: “I feel you, I feel your pain.”

We finally let go of each other and in an awkward tone, wiping our tears, I introduced myself, her name was Nicole. Both of us did not understand what just happened but whatever it was, was very powerful. She complaint about ruining her makeup and she had to go to court and I complained about having parked my car illegally and having to attend an audit meeting. I told her I don’t have space on my phone to take pictures and she used her phone to take a picture of us. We exchanged numbers and she sent me that picture. I told her that at least I managed to go view Mandela’s body at the Union Buildings on the first day of public viewing (that is another story on its own). We parted ways to go to our respective work places.

As I went to my car I was overcome by emotions, the Madiba magic has taken its course, or was it the power of the Almighty? What happened there was not a political statement but a pure act of humanity. Something Nelson Mandela preached about throughout his life. How symbolic that it happened at that very same spot? That was my brief encounter with Nicole.

When I reached my office I sent her a message to thank her and for her to have a lovely day. I said we just made history on that day. She replied by saying that God was present there and she is glad He sent me to share in her grief. She will never forget that moment. She wanted Tata to have a good rest and for me to have a lovely day.

I had to share this experience with someone. I send our picture to my friends and family with the message: “We met at corner Madiba and Nelson Mandela Street as the Nelson Mandela body passed by. She was crying, we hugged and we both ended up crying. She is my new friend now. Look what Nelson Mandela did to us”. I told my colleagues about this incident and everyone was touched by the story. Some of the reactions I got were as follows:

•Cathy Van Wyk: “It is such a moving story, it gives me goose bumps”.
•Nompumelelo Mvalo: “Unity is exactly what he preached every day .Viva Madiba”
•Dikeledi Mehlape:” Mandela has really touched different people. Who would have thought you can meet a friend in such a manner?”
•Laura Cowan:” So glad for you both. Even in death he unites people.”
•Masabata Shuping:” You have a good heart. God is good, all the time.”

With these kinds of reactions, I had to let Nicole know about them and sent her a message. She replied by saying that she shared this encounter with her mother and she also cried. We both believe that some super power was at work here and we felt the presence of God working through us. What we both know is that it is a moment we will never forget.

I must admit that I was very emotional the whole day and needed a way to calm myself down. I have for many years toyed on the thought of being a writer but never really got to actually do it. I have written a few poems but never seriously persuade this dream. With this encounter, I felt a strong urge to put it in writing and document it. At night, I started writing the story and found such a sense of release. I am not sure where the story will end, but I had to write it down. It may be the beginning of a new era for me.

The End