South Africans gather to pay their respects at Mandela's home

Tears and song flowed as mourners – many in pajamas, carrying children – went to Nelson Mandela's house after news broke of his passing. 

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
People chant slogans outside the house of former South African President Nelson Mandela after news of his death in Houghton, Friday.

As rumors of the passing of Nelson Mandela began to circulate on Twitter, South Africans from all walks of life began to do what came most naturally: arrive at his home in Johannesburg.

The crowd, gathered on the grassy curb and the street beyond Mandela's house, quieted as people learned that President Jacob Zuma was making a televised announcement. Journalists began to pack around cellphones, straining to hear the president through tinny speakers. A few people continued to talk, but were hushed by those yearning to catch Mr. Zuma's words.

Zuma praised the man South Africans know by his clan name – Madiba  – before saying the news that so many dreaded.

"We saw in him what we sought in ourselves. We bid him farewell," Zuma said. 

A sharp intake of breath passed through the crowd, and tears started to flow. Ordinary South Africans, drawn to the last moments of the man who brought a democratic South Africa into existence, mourned together. Some of the hundreds in attendance wore soccer uniforms. Others came in suits on their way home from the office. Many arrived from the neighboring houses wearing bathrobes.

One woman dressed in a bathrobe shed tears as she held her two small children close to her. An hour after the announcement, some people were quietly singing in Zulu, "Nelson Mandela. There will never be another one like you," and "comrade, go well, comrade." The air was occasionally punctuated with cries of "Viva, Nelson Mandela! Viva!"

People - dozens of local and international journalists and hundreds of ordinary South Africans - were standing on the grassy curb and fill the streets beyond.  Another young woman, Khadijah Kathrada, wept as she held her infant son.

"Heartbroken. Sad," she says. "Like something big in my life has been taken away. Like I lost my father."

"We are here because of him. He is the reason for our freedom."

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