Oakland City Hall reverberated with the sounds of song and tribute Wednesday, as the city paid its respects to human rights leader Nelson Mandela who died last week at age of 95.
The hour-and-a-half long celebration inside the rotunda held echoes of Mandela’s 1990 visit to the Oakland Coliseum, which followed his release from prison.
The Yukani Mawethu choir, which performed for that visit, once again paid tribute to him, this time filling City Hall with South African song.
“He has gone on but we must carry the torch on,” said Choir Director Andrea Turner. “So that’s what brought us here.”
The East Bay figured strongly into the Mandela story -- Berkeley was the first U.S. city to divest from South Africa. Students at U.C. Berkeley held sit-ins and protests during the 1980s that eventually caused the university to also divest. At the same time East Bay Congressman Ron Dellums doggedly pushed Congress to pass its own landmark divestment legislation.
“Great things have been done by ordinary folks of Oakland and Berkeley and also by their leaders,” said Cyril Ndaba, South African Consulate General to the U.S.
Ndaba spoke glowingly about the East Bay’s role in helping end apartheid, and free Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment. Following his speech, Ndaba leapt to his feet to join the choir in song and dance.
“It’s really humbling, the outpouring of the condolences,” Ndaba said. “It shows what a great man he was.”
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the East Bay shared a long, deep bond with Mandela, especially after his 1990 visit, which drew more than 60,000 devoted fans to the Coliseum.
“I talk to people throughout the city who were there in 1990,” Quan said. “He said we recharged him so he could go back and be president. I say he recharged us.”
Following Wednesday’s ceremony, visitors lined-up in city hall to sign a condolence book. The city planned to send the book to Mandela’s family.
Lori Hill, was among the thousands who had attended Mandela’s appearance at the Coliseum. On Wednesday she sat in the front row inside the Oakland City Hall, watching as the Yukani Mawethu choir gave a repeat performance of a song it sang during Mandela’s previous visit.
“I believe Nelson Mandela was one of the most amazing people to ever be on the planet,” Hill said.