JOHANNESBURG - As South Africans poured into Soweto's Orlando Stadium to watch Nelson Mandela's funeral on specially-set up big screen televisions, artist Ronald Thobega was chasing them down with an ink-filled sponge and a rubber stamp. The mourners were happy to let Thobega stamp them on their arms, forehead, cheeks and hands; for about $0.05 a hit, they walk away with a temporary tattoo of Mandela's likeness.
"We love Tata [Mandela]. This is a big day and the tattoo is a nice way to show our love and admiration for him," said Lindy Madau. She bought a green ink-colored Mandela stamp for her left cheek and a second stamp for her 8-year old son Vusani.
"Mandela is our hero. I like his tattoo," Vusani says, as he posed with his mother to show off their new ink.
Thobega says he and another artist came up with the idea of carving rubber tire bits into the likeness of the anti-apartheid hero, after they sold thousands of stamped impressions of pop star Rhihanna outside her South Africa concert hall last October.
Thobega claims he'd sold and stamped more than 10,000 Mandela ink tattoos since the beginning of South Africa's 10-day period of mourning to mark the death of Nelson Mandela.
"It cost us only about three dollars to make the stamp, and everybody loved it," Thobega says. "Earlier this week we sold tattoos outside Madiba's memorial service in Johannesburg. We've traveled to Pretoria, where Mandela lay in state, later in the week. Now we are here in Soweto for the funeral."
On the other side of the stadium, Mandela stamp seller Phillip Mahlangu was also doing good business. The 43-year-old artist says he usually sells stamps of soccer teams like South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs Football Club outside local stadiums.
“I made the stamp from memory. I didn’t need a picture,” Mahlangu says.
Most South Africans are celebrating the life of Mandela, wearing hats, t-shirts, batiks, jackets, patches and other items baring his likeness. The tattoos have become an important part of that.
"It is temporary. After the service, they can go home and wash it off with water," Mahlangu says.