Mourning Nelson Mandela

By David Butow   Tuesday December 17, 2013

December 16, Mthatha
, South Africa The dramatic clouds from the Eastern Cape rolled through the hills this evening, bringing rain to the sparsely-populated village of Qunu, the boyhood home of Nelson Mandela and the place where his body was buried yesterday.

Just a day after the service, when thousands arrived in buses, fighter jets flew, and hundreds of journalists filed stories from satellite trucks and wi-fi-equipped tents, the village was mostly quiet and back to normal. A herder returned his cattle to the pen just as the sun dipped below the horizon and the drizzle began.

It was a quiet end to a rather amazing week to experience as an outsider, and a photographer returning to this country for the first time since Nelson Mandela ran for president, 20 years ago. He is affectionately called by his nickname "Madiba" by many here, or simply "Tata," which means "Papa".

All photos courtesy and © David Butow. More at Redux Pictures.


The week began just before the rainy-soaked stadium ceremony with all those presidents and other world figures. I have seen little mourning in the way we think of it, but joyous song and dance which moved through three locations along with Mandela's body: Johannesburg, Pretoria and finally here, in Mthatha.

There was probably little shock, in a way, so the moment became a collective opportunity to channel the spirit of this man in the wonderfully infectious way that has captivated many outsiders, filmmakers, musicians writers and photographers. The positive energy is palpable and the challenge for me is to convey that, and the depth of the significance of this man, in the photographs.

It's hard not to have pre-conceptions and form pictures in your head while you're on the long plane ride over. But I found if I just went with the flow and accepted what was in front of me, and tried my best to channel the spirit of the experience of these South Africans, something emerged in my camera that represented what I saw and felt.


David Butow
 is a photojournalist based in California. Assignments have taken him to Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and South America. His primary interests are social issues and the effects of public policy at local and international levels. Butow also works extensively in the United States covering issues of politics, education, race, immigration and poverty among others. He has received various awards from World Press Photo, Communcation Arts, University of Missouri Pictures of the Year, NPPA Best of Photojournalism, Photo District News, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, The American Photography Annual, The New York Association of Black Journalists and the Society of Magazine Designers.

Editor’s Note: This post bumped The DART Board, which usually runs on Tuesdays, over to Wednesday. FYI, Here are listings for Tuesday:

Tuesday, December 17

Opening reception, 6-8 pm: Ellen Letcher | Just the Right Amount of Bubbles. Pocket Utopia, 191 Henry Street, NY, NY.

Book party and discussion, 7 pm: Baldomero Fernandez and Jack Dell | Katz’s: Autobiography of a Delicatessen, with Adam Krefman, publisher, Lucky Peach. Powerhouse Arena, 37 Main Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn.  

Opening reception, 5-7 pm: Michaelangelo Pistoletto | The Minus Objects 1965-1966.Luhring Augustine Bushwick, 25 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. Below: Installation view from 2009 exhibition at Luhring Augustine Gallery.