December 6, 2013 / 5:53 AM / 5 years ago

In a South African corner of New York, mourners pay tribute to 'Madiba'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At “Madiba,” a South African-themed bar in Brooklyn named for Nelson Mandela, mourners responding to news of the anti-apartheid champion’s death on Thursday gathered to launch giant white lanterns and to consider how they would pay tribute.

The bar, which takes its name from Mandela’s Xhosa clan name and is decorated with huge Mandela posters and Zulu designs, has long been a home away from home for South Africans in New York. Many patrons said it was the natural place to come when they heard of Mandela’s death.

“He is like a father to us. He taught us about forgiveness and peace,” said Michelle Andrews, 43, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, who has lived in New York for 18 years.

Carl Hlazo, 40, who was born in Zimbabwe but now lives in New York, said he planned to part his hair to the side, as Mandela once did, as a small tribute.

“It’s very hard to take a monumental figure like that and put it into words,” said Hlazo.

For others, deciding how best to honor the former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who emerged from nearly three decades in apartheid prisons to help guide the nation to democracy, seemed daunting.

Andre Merriweather, a teacher who was born in New York and considers Mandela a personal hero, was struggling with how he would explain Mandela’s passing to his students, who he said were too young to know much about him.

“In 500 years, if people are talking about our time, they’ll say we lived in the era of Nelson Mandela,” Merriweather said.

People release paper lanterns after lighting them outside Madiba, a restaurant named in honor of former South African President Nelson Mandela, in the Brooklyn borough of New York December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Outside the bar, Denis Du Preez, the bar’s co-owner and a native South African, was arranging about two dozen large white lanterns he planned to release in Mandela’s honor - a repeat of a tribute the bar organized on its namesake’s last birthday.

Du Preez said he had opened the bar as “a tribute for all (Madiba) has done for us,” and so it was fitting that South Africans and those who admired Mandela should have come here to honor his life and legacy.

As the lanterns were lit and released, floating above the colorful facade of the bar and up past brownstone apartment buildings in the New York City borough, onlookers cried out, “Vive Mandela!”

Reporting by Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Peter Cooney

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