Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille recalled how the crowds waited for hours in the burning sun for Nelson Mandela to arrive after he was finally released from prison in 1990.
"It was on these same steps that Tata Madiba made his first speech as a free man," she told the large crowd on Friday evening.
Yet on this occasion, the crowds had gathered for an interfaith ceremony to mourn his passing and celebrate his life.
The former president Mandela passed away at his Houghton home in Johannesburg on Thursday evening.
"Tata Madiba has left us but we must be grateful for what he has done for us," said De Lille, who had earlier in the day burst into tears when discussing Mandela's death. "It was here on Robben Island that he spent many years with other political prisoners. Tata Madiba was not in jail because he was a criminal. In prison, he fought for justice and for our freedom."
For some, like 63-year-old Georgina Kastoor, the service honouring Mandela was an opportunity to remember the man she was once privileged to meet.
From the impoverished town of Atlantis outside Cape Town, Kastoor was personally touched by the magic of Madiba.
"I run a crèche out in Atlantis," she explained as she sat beside the barricade. "Mandela was still the president when he came to see us there. I felt so excited and he touched the lives of the children. I was trying to buy two three-bedroom houses to run my crèche and he made a big donation."
Others might not have been so fortunate to meet him, yet he found his way into their hearts.
Mandela stood for human rights and reached out to people like Aziza Kannemeyer and her partner Nicole Williams, who had come to the Grand Parade to pay their respects. "I think Mandela was a man with humanity, he had humility, he had love and he stood for reconciliation." said Kannemeyer.
Some residents from the sprawling township of Khayelitsha said they would never have missed the event. "To me, he was a legend, Mandela, an icon. I don't know what other leader will come, and if they could ever be like him," said Lucas Macuphe (35). "He always preached peace. Some other leader is going to come and inspire us again. But I don't know when."
Song and dance
Strong winds prevented the distribution of candles at the service. The spirit of the ceremony on the steps outside the City Hall was not lost as religious leaders held onto their hats, which threatened to blow away, and sang and danced on stage.
"The mayor ordered the the wind, the south-easter, and so we haven't handed out the candles, which represented the flame of hope," quipped the master of ceremonies, Reverend Chris Nissen, who was active in the political formations of the ANC in the Western Cape."It is the hope Madiba instilled in us."
Nissen said that the country mourns Mandela's death but also rejoices at his life. "Today we have come here to celebrate his life," he said.
Attendees were travelling on their own journey to accept Mandela's death, as some quietly shed tears and laid down their floral tributes.
A long queue formed as people waited patiently to add their flowers to the magnificent floral display that paid tribute to a man who truly inspired a nation.
Cape Town's Adderley Street flower sellers had made the most of the sad day and moved their buckets to the Grand Parade in time for the ceremony. They did a roaring trade as mourners dipped into their pockets.
The City of Cape Town provided mourners who took the time to queue with black ribbons, a South African flag and gave them the opportunity to sign a condolences book.
It felt as if Mandela had not finished his own journey, as he clearly lived on in the hearts of all those who assembled in Cape Town.
"Long live Madiba, long live," the crowds shouted. "Viva Mandela, Viva Mandela."
Behind the barricades on the Grand Parade, a public square that has been used for many political rallies, ANC supporters gathered beside a party van to sing struggle songs.
The police asked the people in the van to turn down the sound system.
The song "Zuma, Zuma, Zuma" proved popular, as the crowds danced and sang.
"The police want us to stop, but we are fed up because over there [that] the Democratic Alliance is not playing any struggle songs," an ANC supporter said.
A security guard told the Mail & Guardian he felt offended by the singing and dancing. "It is not right," he said. "It seems like they are trying to campaign on this, of all evenings."
Siyonde Qingono (24) was draped in ANC colours and looked sad. "I'm feeling bad. Now we have lost Nelson Mandela. He was more than a father to me," she explained. "He was my grandfather. I loved him so much more than anyone in the world."