From worry to inspiration, Mandela’s people react to the death of their ‘father’

Yvonne Ntontomhlauli, left, and Allen Ho Shontoo outside Chancellor House in Johannesburg on Friday. Marc Shoul / Panos for NBC News

Yvonne Ntontomhlauli spoke with pride and determination as she stood for a portrait in downtown Johannesburg on Friday, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt featuring a picture of Nelson Mandela and the logo of the African National Congress.

"We will mourn the full ten days and make our way to the funeral, even if we have to sleep on the floor in the Eastern Cape," she told NBC News, referring to the distant province where Mandela will be buried on December 15.

Ntontomhlauli had made a pilgrimage to Chancellor House the morning after the 95-year-old former president died. It was here that Mandela and Oliver Tambo shared an office in the 1950s after they set up the country's first black law partnership.

Sitting nearby, Allen Ho Shontoo reminisced about the Mandela he knew. "I used to help Mandela when he had this office in town, I'd look after his building and keep an eye out," he said. "When he went into hiding so did I. I feel so sad today, I have no idea what will happen in South Africa from here."

Maxwell Ngwenna, left, and Sisonke Dani. Marc Shoul / Panos for NBC News

In another part of the city, gardener Maxwell Ngwenna paused from his work to describe his own sorrow. "We are crying," he said. "We've lost our father. He made me feel great when I saw him speak over the years. I hope the government now will follow in his footsteps."

Sisonke Dani expressed similar sentiments. "He means the world to me," he told NBC News. "He is my father and my hero. Nothing will be the same now."

"I'm very down and low today," said salesman Andrew Maseko. "Madiba was everything to me, he was the master leader. We will continue to learn from him even in his death. South Africa will not be the same again, I pray that his spirit will enter the people leading us now."

Nosipiwo Mvenyg, pictured with her two young daughters, said Mandela was "like a God to me. He made everything possible. I would not even have been here in Johannesburg if it were not for the freedom he has given me."

She said she might not vote for the ANC at the next election. "I am scared what will happen now and think things may get worse and worse."

Hairdresser Safana Hirani described Mandela's death as "a shock to the world. He was a great big man like my father. He changed my life by fighting for our freedom," she said.

Dalton Chauke said Mandela's achievements had changed his life too. "He did so much for me — if it had not been for him I would not be sitting here talking to you [photographer Marc Shoul], a white man. We need, now more than ever, unity. His [Mandela's] message was simple: put down the guns and go to school."

Cindy Lubner with her domestic maid Paulina Bokaba. At right, Tashreeq Manie. Marc Shoul / Panos for NBC News

Domestic maid Paulina Bokaba has been employed by Cindy Lubner, above left, for 22 years. "I loved him so much," Bokaba said. "He changed our lives but more importantly he changed our grandchildren's lives because they are educated and free."

"Our legend has been taken from us, he took out of the darkness and into the light," Lubner said. "One man can change the world. Mandela was the Jesus of our time."

For Tashreeq Manie, "Madiba equalled freedom, togetherness. He built one nation without color, he opened doors for us that were previously closed because of the color of my skin. His death will bring us all closer and yes, it will be lasting," he said.

Colin Sidelsky. Marc Shoul / Panos for NBC News

Colin Sidelsky's father, attorney Lazar Sidelsky, gave a young Mandela a job as a clerk in his law firm.

"Mandela worked for my dad for two years," Colin recalled. "Walter Sisulu asked my dad to give him a job in 1941 and to give him a chance — that was a game changer. He used to say this man Laz Sidelsky is the only white man I can or have ever called boss."

"I'll never forget the story of my dad walking home from the bus stop, Mandela drove past him and offered him a ride and my dad invited him in for tea. My mom asked my dad 'how did you get home' and he replied 'with Nelson'. 'In a wheelbarrow?' she asked him. 'No, in his car.' 'Well, did he steal it?'"

"Mandela has left a legacy," Colin told NBC News. "We will honor and remember him for all the good he has done, humility, social freedom and all the good attributes that he had."

From left: Claudia Davimes, Themba Bogi, Kamogelo Teant and Laurence Hamburger. Marc Shoul / Panos for NBC News

Outside Mandela's home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, hundreds of people gathered overnight to pay their respects.

"I'm very sad, Claudia Davimes said, adding "worse is now we are rudderless as we all look to Mandela for the strength that our current government does not have."

"Mandela has given me the opportunity to live life as I do," said Themba Bogi. "I have mixed feelings — I'm sad but I'm also celebrating his legacy."

Kamogelo Teant , a boy holding a candle in Mandela's memory, said "Madiba was a humble and strong man, someone I want to be like."

"Mandela gave South Africa a chance when no one else would or did," said Laurence Hamburger. "Desmond Tutu summed Mandela up — he showed us what a human can be."