Madiba laid to rest after state funeral

Nelson Mandelas widow Graca Machel Winnie Madikizela Mandela Nelson Mandelas former wife South African President Jacob Zuma and Mandelas grandson Mandla Mandela

Nelson Mandela was buried yesterday in the African ground that he loved after a funeral ceremony that included a 21-gun salute, fly-overs by military aircraft, and a eulogy by a traditional leader wearing an animal skin.

His casket was lowered into the earth after military pallbearers carried it to the family gravesite in the rolling hills of Qunu — the rural village in eastern South Africa which was the childhood home of the anti-apartheid leader who became the country’s first democratically-elected president.

South African television showed Mandela’s casket at the family gravesite, but the broadcast went to a different scene just before the coffin was lowered at the request of the Mandela family.

It was South Africa’s final goodbye to the man who reconciled the country in its most volatile period.

Several hundred people attended the burial. Earlier, more than 4,000, some singing and dancing, gathered for a funeral service in a huge tent at the family compound of Mandela, who died on Dec 5, aged 95, after a long illness.

They sang the national anthem in an emotional rendition in which some mourners placed fists over their chests.

Mandela’s portrait looked over the assembly in the white tent from behind a bank of 95 candles representing each year of his remarkable life. His casket, transported to the tent on a gun carriage and draped in the national flag, rested on a carpet of cow skins below a lectern where speakers delivered eulogies.

“A great tree has fallen, he is now going home to rest with his forefathers,” Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of Mandela’s family who wore an animal skin, said. “We thank them for lending us such an icon.”

The tent ceremony was broadcast on big screens in the area, including at one spot on a hill overlooking Mandela’s property. Several hundred people gathered there, some wearing the black, yellow, and green colours of the African National Congress — the liberation movement-turned political party that Mandela had led — and occasionally breaking into song.

Nandi Mandela said her grandfather went barefoot to school in Qunu when he was boy and eventually became president and a figure of global import.

“It is to each of us to achieve anything you want in life,” she said, recalling kind gestures by Mandela “that made all those around him also want to do good”.

In the Xhosa language, she referred to her grand-father by his clan name: “Go well, Madiba. Go well to the land of our ancestors, you have run your race.”

Ahmed Kathrada, an anti- apartheid activist who was jailed on Robben Island with Mandela, remembered his old friend’s “abundant reserves” of love, patience, and tolerance. He said it was painful when he saw Mandela for the last time, months ago in his hospital bed.

“He tightly held my hand, it was profoundly heartbreaking,” Kathrada said, his voice breaking at times. “How I wish I never had to confront what I saw. I first met him 67 years ago and I recall the tall, healthy strong man, the boxer, the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel when we couldn’t do so.”

Mandela’s widow, Grace Machel, and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, were dressed in black Xhosa headwraps and dresses. Guests included veterans of the military wing of the African National Congress as well as US ambassador Patrick Gaspard and other foreign envoys.

Britain’s Prince Charles, Monaco’s Prince Albert II, US television personality Oprah Winfrey, businessman Richard Branson, and former Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai were among those present.

South African honour guards from the army, navy, and air force marched in formation amid rolling green hills dotted with small dwellings and neatly demarcated plots of farmland. Clouds cast shadows over the landscape.

The burial ended 10 days of ceremonies that included a massive stadium memorial in Johannesburg and three days during which Mandela’s body lay in state in the capital, Pretoria.

Mandela spent 27 years in jail as a prisoner from apartheid, then emerged to lead a delicate transition to democracy when many South Africans feared the country would sink into all-out racial conflict. He became president in the first all-race elections in 1994.

In the final benediction, shortly before Mandela’s casket was lowered into the earth, the chaplain general of the South African military, Brigadier General Monwabisi Jamangile said: “Yours was truly a long walk to freedom and now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of your maker, God almighty. Amen.”


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