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The people of Soweto pray for Nelson Mandela

A child walks in front of a portrait of Nelson Mandela in Soweto. Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The clocks have not stopped in Soweto. The traffic is still moving. The markets are full. Little has changed in the twenty days since the city's most famous former resident, Nelson Mandela, went into hospital for the fourth time in six months.

The eyes of the world may be on the hospital in Pretoria, with global media organisations hanging on every word from inside. But in Soweto, where Mandela lived before and after his imprisonment, there is little that suggests anxiety or anguish or anything close.

The people of the world's most famous township have prayed for him. First, it was for his recovery. Now, as the realisation sinks in that he is probably in his final days, they pray for an easy, peaceful death.

A man prays as he pays his respects outside the hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated. Credit: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

They still sell souvenirs to the tourists who come to Velikazi Street to stare at the house where Mandela lived, a house that is now a museum to the icon he has become.

Soweto's children are taking their exams. They sing and laugh in the streets where, four decades ago white policemen opened fire and killed many children just like them, thirteen or fourteen years old.

They know about the revolution their parents took part in, the struggle in which Soweto was the cockpit, a fight led by the man who once walked their streets but who now clings to life in a distant hospital.

And when the time comes they will mourn him, as an elder, as a former President and as a towering figure of history. And they will be proud. But that time is not now.Soweto, for now, lives a normal life. And Mandela lives on.

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