JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The music decks and end-of-year office parties fell silent across South Africa on Thursday when President Jacob Zuma delivered the news nobody wanted to hear: Beloved anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela had died.
From sweaty nightclubs in the sprawling township of Soweto to the heart of Johannesburg’s Sandton financial district, DJs hit the pause button as party-goers stood in stunned silence to listen to Zuma’s nationally televised address.
For most, the passing of South Africa’s first black president was an unforgettable moment in history.
“As soon as we saw Zuma on TV, the music stopped and everyone rushed to watch the TV, to listen to what was happening,” said 19-year-old school leaver Lesego Tsimo outside a Soweto nightclub.
“People got emotional, some cried, and everyone started talking about Mandela,” he added. “I feel very sad. I feel overwhelmed with emotion. He has done so much for us.”
Non-South Africans paid tribute to the 95-year-old for bringing the continent’s biggest and most sophisticated economy out of decades of apartheid isolation.
“I can speak next to you now because of Nelson Mandela. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be standing here in South Africa now speaking to you,” said 31-year-old Congolese businessman Papi Josias, who has been in South Africa for eight years.
“He united many nations. I came to South Africa because Mandela made peace.”
Outside Mandela’s home in the posh neighborhood of Houghton, hundreds of people, many of them young women teetering down the road in high heels after office parties, gathered to pay their respects to a man revered around the world as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.
“It’s late but this is one day in history and I want my children to remember who Mandela was,” said 35-year-old businessman Philip Sikhumbuzo, holding the hands of his two small children, still dressed in their pyjamas.
Near Mandela’s home on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, the epicenter of the decades-long struggle against apartheid, people took to the streets draped in the flags of the Mandela’s post-apartheid “Rainbow Nation” and the African National Congress.
Some sang anthems from the anti-apartheid struggle. Others stood in quiet contemplation.
“I have mixed feelings. I am happy that he is resting but I am also sad to see him go,” said 45-year-old housewife Molebogeng Ntheledi.
Although Mandela’s death is expected to be largely symbolic, some hinted at political shifts after the death of a leader criticized by some blacks as giving too much ground to whites in the 1994 transition to multi-party democracy.
“There’s going to be a change now that Mandela has gone. Whether good or bad, there will be a change - just like when he came out of prison, there was a change,” said 48-year-old Soweto resident Elias Nkosi.
More than 1,500 km (1,000 miles) away in Cape Town, traffic officials started taking up positions outside City Hall, where Mandela delivered his first speech to a massive crowd after his release from 27 years in prison in 1990.
Sindisa Makana, a 21-year-old petrol attendant at a 24-hour garage, summed up the feelings of South Africa and the world after hearing the news on the radio: “The legend is gone”.
Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Cynthia Osterman