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As South Africans come to terms with the loss of former president Nelson Mandela, the rest of the world bids farewell to Madiba.

Pimples: Saving Madiba's rabbit (video)
Gwede, Mac and Blade try their best to stop the rabbit from whispering in Mandela's ear. But the elusive animal has some tricks up its sleeve.

Zapiro's best Madiba cartoons (slideshow)
From his toughest moments to his most triumphant, Madiba has been an inspiration. Here are some of our favourite Zapiro cartoons about him from 1994 to 2013.

Mandela: SA's greatest son laid to rest (slideshow)
The world watched as Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest in his hometown of Qunu following a dignified and moving funeral ceremony on Sunday.
'Crowd sang Mandela's name with a lump in its throat'
Where the English have football, South Africans have politics. This occurred to me as I stood near the stadium where SA will host the World Cup final.

Where the English have football, South Africans have politics. This occurred to me as I stood a short distance from the stadium where South Africa will host next year's World Cup final. A hundred or so people were gathered in a spontaneous outpouring of joy at their team's victory. They wore the team shirts and hats, waved its flags and banners, and chanted its familiar anthems. The team was the African National Congress and it had just won its fourth consecutive championship.

These celebrating supporters formed a circle, singing in stirring harmonies what might be street songs or village songs taught by parents or grandparents. Members of the chorus took turns to foray into the centre of the circle, where they danced with unselfconscious grace and merriment, watched by the swaying, hand-clapping crowd. An occasional horn blast, whistle or shrieking falsetto completed the medley.

Later that night, at the cavernous Johannesburg ExpoCentre, I stood among thousands of ANC supporters as they saluted their exultant leadership. Along with fierce loyalty to their own side, there was partisan relish at the downfall of rivals. A miniature cardboard coffin, complete with cross and flowers, was borne aloft and passed above heads to the stage. On top of it was written, "RIP Cope", a reference to the Congress of the People, the ANC dissidents who broke away to form their own party and were now seen as paying the price of betrayal.

South Africa had just experienced its fourth democratic election since the end of apartheid. It still has novelty; marking a ballot paper is still a moral act in itself. Here the timeworn phrase "People fought and died to give you this right" is still raw and to trivialise it is to trample on sacred ground. "If you don't vote today, shame on you," said one radio talkshow host.

The ANC, so eloquent in the poetry of liberation but now speaking the prose of government, was forced to raise its game this time and spend big to fight off Cope and others. It was the most keenly contested election in the history of the republic, which many said recaptured the spirit of 1994. The long lines snaking outside polling stations produced a turnout of 77%. Britain's last election had a turnout of 61%, and America's last year was only slightly higher.

Barely a street in South Africa has escaped the faces of Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille and others staring from lamp posts and telegraph poles. Newspapers, radio, television and websites brimmed with political chatter. As polling day drew near, there was a collective fever in the air that I wanted to reach out and touch. Britain has forgotten what it feels like, except when a national team is playing in the World Cup. America rediscovered it to a degree last year with the eruption of Barack Obama.

Just as the party primaries in America force the grandest candidates to the stump, so South African elections still have a Mr Smith Goes to Washington quality. One Saturday I found myself on a sports field in Thokoza, a township where, in the 90s, clashes between the ANC and Inkatha left many dead. This time the mood was more like a music festival in the dog days of summer, as groups of Inkatha supporters poured off buses and paraded around the field, singing and punching the air, with the odd traditional Zulu dancer waving his spear and shield.

Then, the great entrance, as a 4x4 arrived and out stepped Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of Inkatha, now 80, the last of the major combatants of 1994 still on the frontline. The sight of this lean figure in yellow-striped blazer and bright orange shirt electrified the spectators. During a long and rather drawn out speech, Buthelezi told them he is no longer a spring chicken. Later, I attempted to interview him while surrounded by about 200 eager onlookers. I asked him if this would be his last hurrah. No, he said, he'll be back if they want him.

I went outside and found a large group gathered in a circle by a Shell petrol station. In the middle of the circle were young men clattering each other, and drawing blood, with the Zulu art of stick fighting. They paused only to let Buthelezi's motorcade pass through, then resumed. Well, it's one way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

A day later saw the re-energised and newly disciplined ANC's final election rally. Tens of thousands of people thronged towards Ellis Park as if for a big match. They filled not one stadium but two, turning the stands into a sea of green, gold and black. As I sat in the press box normally reserved for sports reporters, the hum of expectation was indistinguishable from cup final day. The explosion came with, of all the things, the entry of a golf cart.

In it was Jacob Zuma who, as expected, will be South Africa's next president. But there was also a man who has the legendary status of the dead, such as Martin Luther King or Gandhi, yet remains defiantly among the living. Nelson Mandela, borne by his golf cart as if in the Popemobile, essayed a lap of honour around the field with a chaotic mob of journalists, party officials and security men in hot pursuit, like schoolboys bunched together chasing a football.

Mandela, a frail 90, had to be helped up on stage but he gave a familiar smile and wave. The crowd sang his name from deep wells of affection with a collective lump in its throat, just as a football crowd hails the return of a greying, stiff-limbed idol whose youth they remember with a sigh. With Mandela on their side, the ANC could never really lose.

Zuma took to the stage pumping arms and legs in a dance that no British politician would have dared lest he invite comparisons with The Office's David Brent. It is now customary for Zuma to burst into song at every public event, making apathy impossible. I imagined Gordon Brown or David Cameron doing the same.

A few days later, I sat amid the banks of computers and TV screens at the national election results centre in Pretoria. Party officials manned rows of desks as if at Houston mission control. Soaring above us all was a giant electronic scoreboard showing the vote tallies as they came. The national list alone contained 26 parties, including the Muslim Al Jama-ah and Kiss, standing for Keep It Straight and Simple.

Whether it will always be like this is doubtful. The smaller parties, even Inkatha, got squeezed to near oblivion as the ANC, Democratic Alliance and Cope took the lion's share. Some believe this is the beginning of a consolidation that could see South Africa effectively become a three-party state like Britain.

But I hope the freshness and commitment survive. South Africans grumble about the poor performance of their football clubs and expect the national team to take a hammering in the World Cup. Perhaps it makes sense that they should pour their high octane emotions into their party allegiance instead. In a country where poverty, crime and Aids are still rampant, there is still a belief that politics can be a matter of life or death.

South Africa's 15-year-old democracy gives the impression, at least, of a bright-eyed adolescent in rude health. We will know it has reached adulthood and maturity when it is conceivable for the ANC to lose. But we may also then feel nostalgic for the passionate extremities of youth. -