The president of South Africa has led tributes to Nelson Mandela, describing him as a “beacon of hope”, as the anti-apartheid hero was laid to rest in a family plot.
Dignitaries from around the world gathered for the state funeral of South Africa’s first black president in Qunu, the remote village where Mr Mandela grew up.
More than 4,000 people, including Mr Mandela’s family members, African leaders and several heads of state, attended the final farewell service in a specially erected marquee.
After the ceremony, his casket was carried by the military, accompanied by family and friends, up a hill to the graveside.
The Prince of Wales, who arrived in South Africa yesterday, attended the service along with prominent US civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, entrepreneur Richard Branson and broadcaster Oprah Winfrey.
Reading an obituary, Mr Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela said the former leader became “one of the world’s greatest icons”.
“It is through Mandela that the world cast its eyes on South Africa and took notice of the severe and organised repression of black South Africans,” he said. “Yet it was also through Mandela that the world would learn the spirit of endurance, the triumph of forgiveness and the beauty of reconciliation.”
In the Xhosa language, Mr Mandela’s granddaughter Nandi Mandela said: “Go well Madiba. Go well to the land of our ancestors, you have run your race.”
The coffin, draped in the country’s national flag, was taken on a gun carriage from Mr Mandela’s house to a giant white marquee that had been specially erected for the service.
Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, a representative of Mr Mandela’s family, said: “A great tree has fallen, he is now going home to rest with his forefathers. We thank them for lending us such an icon.”
Ahmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Mr Mandela, said: “Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality, justice, continually serve as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and the world.
“Today, mingled with our grief, is the enormous pride that one of our own has during his lifetime and now in your death united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never before experienced in history.”
Preparations for Mr Mandela’s funeral were marred by a public spat between the South African government and retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most prominent survivors in the long anti-apartheid struggle.
Mr Tutu, a Nobel laureate who has strongly criticised the current government, attended the service after earlier saying he would not, despite wanting to pay respects to his long-time friend. He had said he was not invited — an apparent snub that the South African government vehemently denied.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu walking to the gravesite of Nelson Mandela. He will laid to rest shortly... pic.twitter.com/40fQMDtBZ3— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) December 15, 2013
At least 100,000 people saw Mr Mandela’s body lying in state in Pretoria over three days last week, but some had to be turned away.
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