UK

Tears for Mandela as London mourns

  • 8 December 2013
  • From the section UK
Clockwise from top left: Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo with Lee Sanowar McKee, flowers outside South Africa House and Nelson Mandela in 1999
Nelson Mandela, that "rarest of leaders", was remembered at a thanksgiving service in London as flowers continue to be laid outside South Africa House

St Martin-in-the-Fields, off Trafalgar Square in central London, was a fitting venue for a service to remember Nelson Mandela.

In the church is a statue of Hector Pieterson, a 13-year-old schoolboy killed in the Soweto uprising in 1976. He is being carried in the arms of a fellow student.

The memorial moved one congregation member - Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo - on first sight.

But it was when the vicar spoke of how it reflected Nelson Mandela carrying South Africa in his arms and asked who would carry South Africa now he was gone, that she burst into tears.

The lawyer-turned-writer, from Finland, heard about the service on BBC radio at 07:39 GMT, jumped in a cab from Camberwell in south London where she is staying, and made it just in time for the 08:10 start.

"I thought this is money well-spent," she said, as she recalled her student days in the 1980s campaigning against apartheid and holding vigils outside St Martin-in-the-Fields.

"We were here shouting 'don't buy their apples', marching, getting into scuffles. We were always organising who was going to be standing here."

She spoke of an unknown man who had kept vigil outside the church throughout the years in the cold and the rain.

"He never left. He represented to me the passion - he was the link to Mandela. I thought if he is in the cold again, I could do my bit," she added.

Mr Mandela's death had, she said, made her reflect on the gravity of what they were trying to achieve in those days and the service had helped to bring closure.

Her friend Lee Sanowar McKee, a 74-year-old Trinidadian journalist, said her reasons for attending the service were simply that she had "walked the walk and came for the last walk".

St Martin-in-the-Fields has strong links to the anti-apartheid movement. Felicity Hepper and John Subbiah remembered the role they played.

It was an emotional morning for others in the congregation too.

Felicity Hepper, a 48-year-old doctor, from Ealing, west London, had been a student activist involved in the anti-apartheid movement.

The service, she said, was a chance to pause and give thanks for the inspiration of Mr Mandela and remember others who had worked with him and for him.

There were memories too for John Subbiah, a lay chaplain at St Martins, who 20 years earlier had held candle-lit vigils on the steps of the church.

It was, said the Malaysian who has lived in the UK for 35 years, a tiny contribution to all that Mr Mandela achieved.

The main address was made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who described the 95-year-old as the "rarest of leaders" and thanked God for his life.

Messages of love, tolerance, compassion and peace mounted up on the pavement

Next door, at the entrance to South Africa House, home of the High Commission, floral tributes are piling up beneath the bright colours of the South African flag.

Beside the bouquets of roses, chrysanthemums and lilies are messages of love and thanks, many addressing Mr Mandela as father or "papa".

In one, Felicity McKenzie, from Cape Town, said she had met Mr Mandela - "Your presence filled the room and you shook my hand".

"Thank you for allowing me to be proudly South African."

Another card read: "I always considered myself a child of the rainbow nation and you were its father."

The pile of tributes is expected to grow throughout the rest of the day.

For one woman laying flowers, Mr Mandela had "opened up everyone's hearts".

It was a legacy, she said, that should be passed onto the next generation, which was why she had brought her 14-year-old grand-daughter along.