“A long walk to freedom” are words that perfectly sum up the late President of South Africa’s difficult journey and challenge-filled life. When Nelson Mandela’s 95-year walk came to an end on 5 December 2013, the world began grieving.
Nelson Mandela’s last known words were “We join everybody on the continent and in the diaspora in wishing you success in the tournament going forward. Yours sincerely, NR Mandela.” These words were spoken on 2 July 2010 before Ghanian footballers played in the quarter-final of the FIFA 2010 World Cup.
It is extremely likely that those weren’t his actual last words, given that they were spoken three years before his death, but the football-loving former president of South Africa had retired from the public eye long before the quarter-final of the FIFA 2010 World Cup. Let’s take a closer look at Nelson Mandela’s last known words, his death, and his funeral.
Nelson Mandela’s Death
Nelson Mandela died at 20:50 (UCT+2) on 5 December 2013 in his Houghton home. His health had been on the decline for quite some time and his primary ailment was a prolonged respiratory infection.
Fake reports of Nelson dying had been circulating for years. When he was admitted to Milpark Hospital for “routine tests” in 2011, his spokesperson had to issue a statement that he was “in no danger and is in good spirits.”
But in 2013, the freedom fighter’s health took a turn for the worst and he was first hospitalized on 8 June with a recurring lung infection. By 23 June his condition was labeled as ‘critical’ and it was confirmed that he was hooked up to a life support machine as he could not breathe on his own.
He battled his illness from his hospital bed and was released from hospital in September and spent the rest of his life receiving high home-based care in his home in the luxurious Johannesburg suburb of Houghton. By 3 December he was described as “on death’s door” by one of his daughters, Makaziwe Mandela.
Just two days later, his passing was announced by then-President Jacob Zuma at 23:45. Nelson’s wife and family members were present at his bedside when he passed on.
Nelson Mandela’s Last Words
Due to his deteriorating health and growing focus on philanthropy, Nelson retired from the public eye in order to spend more time with his family and work with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In June of 2004, he officially announced that he was retreating from public life and he was hardly seen in public since the initial announcement.
During this time, almost all interview requests were declined and he stopped attending public events altogether. His last ever public appearance was at the closing ceremony of the FIFA World Cup of 2010, on 11 July 2010 at 18:30.
Nelson Mandela’s last known words were “We join everybody on the continent and in the diaspora in wishing you success in the tournament going forward. Yours sincerely, NR Mandela.”
Of course, the likelihood of the above being his actual last words is minimal. But due to his status as near-recluse, and silence on his final words from his family, his last words are set to remain a mystery for the foreseeable future.
Nelson Mandela’s Memorial and Funeral
When news of his death broke, hundreds of mourners lined the street outside his Houghton home. South Africa immediately entered into a 10 day national mourning period and flags on all government buildings were drawn to half-mast.
Nelson’s official memorial service took palace at the FNB Stadium on 10 December. Thousands of members of the South African public attended the memorial and the 95,000-seater stadium was almost full.
From 11 to 13 December, Nelson’s body lay in state and was viewed by more than 100,000 mourners who wished to pay their respects. Throughout this time multiple unofficial memorial services were held in his honor.
On the last day of mourning, 15 December 2013, Nelson’s official state funeral took place in Qunu, Eastern Cape. More than 4,500 people attended his funeral including 91 foreign heads of state, Barack Obama, Prince Charles, Bono, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and 14 members of royal families around the world.