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Some worry Nelson Mandela’s death might stir racial tensions

Reuters | Last Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 18:38

Johannesburg: South Africans united in mourning for Nelson Mandela on Friday, but some feared the anti-apartheid hero`s death could leave their country vulnerable again to racial and social tensions that he did so much to pacify.

As dawn broke and commuters headed to work, many expressed shock at the passing of a man who was a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

South Africans heard President Jacob Zuma tell them late on Thursday that the former president and Nobel peace prize laureate passed away peacefully at his Johannesburg home in the company of his family after a long illness.

Despite reassurances from leaders and public figures that Mandela`s passing, while sorrowful, would not halt South Africa`s advance away from its bitter apartheid past, some still expressed a sense of unease about the physical absence of a man famed as a peacemaker.

"It`s not going to be good, hey! I think it`s going to become a more racist country. People will turn on each other and chase foreigners away," said Sharon Qubeka, 28, a secretary from
Tembisa township as she headed to work in Johannesburg.

"Mandela was the only one who kept things together," she said.

Flags flew at half mast as South Africa entered a period of mourning leading up to a planned state funeral next week.

Many attended church services, including another veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, former archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu. He said that like all South Africans he was "devastated" by Mandela`s death.

"Let us give him the gift of a South Africa united, one," Tutu said, holding a mass in Cape Town`s Anglican St George`s Cathedral.

In a sign that business would largely go on as usual, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange said it would pause trade for only five minutes at 11am (0900 GMT) on Friday to mark Mandela`s passing.

An avalanche of tributes continued to pour in for Mandela, who had been ailing for nearly a year with a recurring lung illness dating back to the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails, including the notorious Robben Island penal colony.

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among world leaders and dignitaries who paid fulsome tribute to him as a moral giant and exemplary beacon for the world.

American talk show host Oprah Winfrey added her voice to the tributes, saying Mandela "will always be my hero".

But for South Africa, the loss of its most beloved leader comes at a time when the nation, which basked in global goodwill after apartheid ended, has been experiencing bloody labour unrest, growing protests against poor services, poverty, crime and unemployment and corruption scandals tainting Zuma`s rule.

Many saw today`s South Africa — the African continent`s biggest economy but also one of the world`s most unequal — still distant from being the "Rainbow Nation" ideal of social peace and shared prosperity that Mandela had proclaimed on his triumphant release from prison in 1990.

"I feel like I lost my father, someone who would look out for me. Already as a black person with no connections you are disadvantaged," said Joseph Nkosi, 36, a security guard from Alexandra township in Johannesburg.

Referring to Mandela by his clan name, he added: "Now without Madiba I feel like I don`t have a chance. The rich will get richer and simply forget about us. The poor don`t matter to them. Look at our politicians, they are nothing like Madiba."

First Published: Friday, December 6, 2013 - 18:36
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