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Parliament convenes to honour Madiba

South African MPs returned from leave for a special sitting to pay their respects to Mandela.

Images of Nelson Mandela adorn the pillars of Parliament in Cape Town. People filled the surrounding area to watch a special sitting to honour Madiba there on large screens on 9 December 2013. Picture: Carmel Loddenberg/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Parliament on Monday convened a joint sitting to pay tribute to former president Nelson Mandela following his passing at his Houghton home at the age of 95 on Thursday.

Members of the Mandela family joined diplomats and other dignitaries in the public gallery of the National Assembly, where the historic joint sitting was held.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke also attended the historic event.

Scores of people gathered outside in the parliamentary precinct where they are watching proceedings on giant screens.

Proceedings are also being broadcast live on big screens erected on Cape Town's Grand Parade.

Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu opened by saying, "This day of course is a painful day for us because we bid a sad farewell to a beloved father and leader. But we are also happy that his teachings and the legacy remains behind."

Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu signs a book of condolences at Parliament before a special sitting to honour Nelson Mandela on 9 December 2013. Picture: EWN.

In a departure from the tradition of strictly allocated speaking time, every party represented in Parliament was allocated five minutes to pay tribute to the departed statesman.

Speaking for the ruling ANC, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe thanked Mandela for a life well lived.

"As one chapter is closing on the life of this lovable revolutionary, another is opening prefaced by the question whether Mandela's remarkable contribution to human progress will simply pass into historical memory."

Motlanthe says the ultimate test for Mandela's legacy will be the extent to which his dream is realised once the grieving is over.

The deputy president says this cannot happen without a concerted effort to eradicate poverty.

"We cannot claim to follow in the footsteps of this inspiring leader when we have these shocking levels of poverty sitting cheek by jowl with fabulously dazzling material riches known to human history."

He said Mandela would always strive for unity, and was opposed to racism, sexism and social inequality.

For the DA, the party's leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille called on government to ensure the fight against apartheid continues, albeit in a different guise.

"Ahead of us still lies a long walk to the kind of freedom that each South African can use to improve their lives. Freedom you can use is freedom fulfilled."

She says many South Africans have freedom, but are not truly free as they still don't have education or economic equality.

Zille says the government now has the responsibility to make sure that the fight against apartheid continues with a battle for equality.

A rare sight greets people who pass Parliament as the wall is covered in banners depicting the day Mandela was sworn in as the first democratically elected president.

Members of the public have also been given the opportunity to write messages on the huge canvass which is tied to fencing outside one of the smaller buildings of Parliament.

At the same time, Pollsmoor Prison has paid tribute to Madiba, who was transferred to the jail in 1982 from Robben Island.

Proceedings kicked off with a visit to the cell where Mandela was held for four years.

The cell has a tiny bed which is covered with a blue and white fitted sheet; on it is a roll of toilet paper, toothbrush and grey blankets. Adjacent is a silver cup and bowl.

A moment of silence was held for Madiba in the courtyard where he often went out for some fresh air.

On this day in 1988, the statesman was transferred from Pollsmoor to Victor Verster near Paarl.

Madiba will be laid to rest in Qunu on Sunday.

For an up-to-date and comprehensive guide to the various events taking place this week, including information on transport, see EWN's special guide, Saying goodbye to Madiba: Event planner, or the shorter guide, _ Mandela events: Brief information guide._

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