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Near Mandela's Soweto Home, A Gathering Of Mourners


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. This morning in Soweto, South Africa, crowds continue to congregate around the family home of Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday. During the struggle against apartheid, Soweto became a symbol of the separation of the races, both physically and economically.

When Nelson Mandela lived there decades ago, it was a dusty black township. By the time he was released from prison, the population had grown to maybe 2 million, and there was still barely a street sign or a shop.

NPR's Gregory Warner has just arrived in Soweto, and joins us now to talk about the scene there - people mourning Mandela's passing and remembering his life. Good morning.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: It's afternoon there, as we speak - morning here, of course, in America. People have had some time to gather since the announcement of Mandela's death last night. Describe the scene for us.

WARNER: Sure. Well, I'm just a few blocks away from Mandela's former house here in Soweto, and it's been the point of congregation for a lot of people here, especially residents of Soweto have come here. And it's just a scene of joy. I can't describe it any other way. People are singing. They're dancing. They have smiles on their faces. They're coming with their kids.

And it's not just this main area outside the house, but these little restaurants which are next to the house. And from your description of Soweto, you might not expect that there's restaurants, but there are now. And inside those restaurants, everybody's singing and dancing, as well. And people - a lot of the people are trying to eat their food. So, it's a bit chaotic. It's a lot of fun.

MONTAGNE: And I imagine many of the people who live there - and many of them have always lived there - will know that the change, the one you're actually describing, has a lot to do with Mandela and the struggle, and the ANC. Are they talking about it in those terms, how their life has - although nothing is perfect, and much improvement is still needed - has really changed?

WARNER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, people are calling this a celebration of his legacy. They're not mourning the man. They're celebrating his legacy. And this is a good place to come to see that legacy. As you say, Soweto still has a lot of problems. But the people here - especially those in their 30s, 40s, 50s - who are bringing their kids, they're trying to send that message to their kids. And I guess I've talked to a number of people here who say they feel like this is the chance - when the world is watching and their kids are interested - to tell them what Mandela was all about. And that's why they've brought them here.

MONTAGNE: There are many spots in Soweto that have importance in the struggle against apartheid. You're at one of them. It's near the Mandela former home. But what else is there?

WARNER: Sure. And I'm just a few blocks from Mandela's former home, and this is the Hector Pieterson Memorial. And Hector Pieterson was a young boy who was participating in these children's riots. This was long after Mandela was in prison, and the struggle was still going on, leaderless. These children were having a peaceful protest. This boy was shot, and it sparked a number of riots that people really trace their sense of the uprising in Soweto. So, it's an important place for people in Soweto. And so it's not surprising that this was - this Hector Pieterson Memorial was actually where people first came, although they've now drifted on to Mandela's house.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gregory Warner, near the family home of Nelson Mandela in Soweto. Thank you very much.

WARNER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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