Elegies after the Death of Nelson Mandela
for violoncello and piano
Year of composition
In memory of
- Day I
- Day II
- Day III
- Day IV
- Day V
- Day VI
- Day VII
- Day VIII
- Day IX
- Day X
- Day XI
On the night that the death of President Nelson Mandela was announced, I decided that I would like to do something as a tribute and I decided upon short compositions where I develop a simple idea for every day until the funeral. I wrote the original version for viola and piano because both instruments can portray the feeling of sorrow and mourning well. A transcription for violoncello and piano was later made. For the first composition, the keys on the piano that stood out were the black keys and I wrote the first short movement, consisting of C#, D#, F#, G# and A#. The other ten movements were all written at different times of the day. Lala ngoxolo Tata Madiba!
I was a little boy when the world was buzzing about the release of Nelson Mandela. I experienced the changes where our school started to sing the Nkosi Sikelela i’Afrika in the place of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika. New flags were hoisted and I expanded my stamp and coin collections with numerous special editions, all with Nelson Mandela’s face or the new flag on it. I can still remember Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk shaking hands on national television shortly after they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At first I did not understand politics well but my interest in history led me to understand politics better. For many years it was one of my dreams to meet Nelson Mandela. When the opportunity arose to meet him at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, he became extremely ill and was rushed to hospital several times. Needless to say, I never got the opportunity to meet him in person. At about 23:50 on the 5th of December 2013 I received a message saying that Nelson Mandela passed away. This message was nothing strange, as several messages have been doing the rounds that Mandela is dead – all scam messages. When I started to search for more information on the internet, I learnt that it was indeed true: Nelson Mandela passed away. A few things came to mind, like the first black president of South Africa; the reality of death; sorrow. I decided that I would like to do something as a tribute to Nelson Mandela and I decided upon short compositions where I develop a simple idea for every day until the funeral. I wrote the original version for viola and piano because both instruments can portray the feeling of sorrow and mourning well. A version for violoncello and piano was later created. For the first composition, the keys on the piano that stood out were the black keys and I wrote the first short movement, consisting of C#, D#, F#, G# and A#. The other ten movements were all written at different times of the day. As I drove to work on Friday the 6th of December, all the newspapers have had tributes ready and for the first time in a very long time I stopped to buy a newspaper. The streets were quiet, it was raining. Just a week before, I took some of our guests to Mandela’s house in Houghton and I felt that I wanted to get more involved with the proceedings and events to celebrate the life of this memorable man. So my wife and I went to a memorial service at the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory in Johannesburg. The service was led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and was attended by President Jacob Zuma and many other government officials. We went to Mandela’s house in Houghton again and it is impossible to describe the feeling of walking in heavy rain, to see how the flowers stacked up and find your way through thousands of people who are singing the Nelson Mandela song in the rain. I was also privileged enough to be invited to a tribute event for creative artists by our friend Vicky Kente who worked closely with Nelson Mandela for a very long time. This event inspired me even more to write these elegies, which I consider my tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Lala ngoxolo Tata Madiba!
On 5 December 2013, around 20:50, Nelson Mandela passed away at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg. His death was announced by President Jacob Zuma on national television at 23:45.
Most people heard about the death of Nelson Mandela on 6 December 2013 for the first time. The people of South Africa were shocked by reality and confusion because this was not a scam. “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” – Nelson R. Mandela.
People gathered outside Nelson Mandela’s house in Houghton and they celebrated his life by singing, dancing and laying wreaths. “We will always love Madiba for teaching us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger in order to build a new nation and a new society. We will spend the week mourning his passing. We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived, a life that we must all emulate for the betterment of our country and Africa.” – Press release from the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
This day was declared by the South African government as a national day of prayer and reflection. “We call upon all our people to gather in halls, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and in their homes for prayer services and meditation, reflecting on the life of Madiba and his contribution to our country and the world.” – President Jacob Zuma
“I was in awe of him.” – Ahmed Kathrada (Mandela’s friend). Condolence books have been set out. “When I thanked him for his life’s work, for what he did to end apartheid, he refused to take the compliment. Instead, he stressed that there were many hundreds of heroes – some known, some unknown – who had helped him, and who deserved just as much praise and perhaps even more.” – Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon
An official memorial service was held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. This memorial service was one of the largest gatherings of 91 world leaders.
Mandela’s coffin, with a glass top, was draped in the South African flag. His body was transported from No. 1 Military Hospital to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. His body lied in state for three days. The Mandela family opened the viewing from 10:00 and members of the public were allowed to file past his body from 12:00 to 17:30.
The Union Buildings hold extreme significance for South Africa. This is also the place where Mandela was sworn in as the first democratically elected president of South Africa and the oldest head of state in South Africa, taking office at the age of 75.
Approximately 100 000 mourners viewed Mandela’s body over the three days and many people were turned away. Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, remained with Mandela’s body for all three days in accordance with the Aba Thembu tradition which requires an adult male family member to remain with the body until burial.
The official send-off ceremony for Mandela at the Waterkloof Military Airbase in Pretoria took place. “We will miss him. He was our leader of special types. He was something special… Go well Tata, you have made your contribution and you will always be in our hearts.” – President Jacob Zuma
A state funeral was held in Qunu in the Eastern Cape and was attended by 4 500 people. The burial was attended by only 450 selected people. Before the burial, Nelson Mandela was given a 21 gun salute and a missing man formation flyover by fighter jets. Lala ngoxolo.