Lester Holt / NBC News
Dineo Pilane, 9, and her friend Mpho write on a wall of remembrance of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa.
SOWETO, South Africa - The messages are simple but profound.
“I love you,” Dineo Pilane, 9, wrote on a wall of remembrances next to the Nelson Mandela family home and museum on Vilikazi Street.
“Thank You,” wrote Mpho, 8.
The two were part of a throng that had gathered to honor and celebrate the life of South Africa’s former president and anti-apartheid icon who died on Thursday.
The street where his family once lived has become a place of pilgrimage, with choirs, dancers, merchants with all manner of memorabilia, religious leaders and tourists from around the world arriving to pay their respects.
A wall – several tall planks of wood painted white – for “messages of love and gratitude from around the world” was set up by the online global activist group AVAAZ.org.
“May we reflect the same light you emitted of courage, strength, compassion and love,” read a message signed “Debra USA.”
“Fare thee well Tata. We are free at last because of you,” wrote Mokhotu Dilolo. The schoolteacher said he’d traveled several hours to visit Mandela’s former home in Soweto, the township that came to symbolize the struggle against the brutal white-minority rule that Mandela fought for decades.
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With Mandela and fellow anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu among Vilikazi’s residents or former residents, it is the only street in the world to boast two Nobel Laureates. It continues to draw thousands of well wishers since Mandela’s death.
Lester Holt / NBC News
A boy write on a wall of remembrance of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa.
Henry Williams was visiting from Queens New York. So was Emma Gibson of Pomona California. They were with tour group from the States that just happened to be in South Africa as the country and many around the world mourned and celebrated their former president.
“It’s quite a coincidence,” said Gibson, as the group made its way from the Mandela family home. “He leaves such a great legacy.”
For Williams the trip turned out to be a bookend of sorts. He was at Yankee stadium and the ticker tape parade when Mandela visited New York just after his release from prison in 1990.
“I’ve always been a huge admirer,” Williams said. Being here the last few days, he said, has been like “being with a relative who’s very ill and has then passed on.”
Danielle Bentel paused and took in the scene.
“He’s a hero who has united the nation once again ... even in death.”
First published December 9 2013, 7:07 AM