Nelson Mandela’s body was being flown on Saturday to South Africa’s Eastern Cape region, headed for a state funeral on Sunday in his ancestral village after a send-off for the anti-apartheid hero by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
With revolutionary songs, some raised fists and tributes to “Comrade Mandela”, the former liberation movement to which Mandela had dedicated his life said farewell at the Waterkloof airforce base in the capital of Pretoria.
“Go well ‘Tata’, you have played your part,” South African President and ANC leader Jacob Zuma said in a eulogy using the Xhosa word for “father”. He recalled Mandela’s life as a freedom fighter in the armed struggle against white minority rule, for which he was put in jail for 27 years.
“We will always remember you,” Zuma said, before bellowing the ANC struggle slogan of “Amandla” (Power).
The ANC send-off led by Zuma, attended by Mandela’s widow Graca Machel and his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, came after nine days of intense and emotion-charged mourning and memorial activities held in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
This included three days of lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday to Friday in which more than 100,000 people queued for hours to say a last personal goodbye to the nation’s first black president.
One of Mandela’s grandchildren, Mandla, thanked those who had come to pay their respects to the Nobel peace laureate.
“I have witnessed his army, I have witnessed his people, I have witnessed ordinary South Africans who walked this long walk to freedom with him and I can assure the African National Congress today that the future of this country looks bright.”
Escorted by fighter jets, Mandela’s body was being flown by South Africa’s airforce to his Eastern Cape home region, where it would be taken to the family home at Qunu, a village among rolling green hills, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg.
There, a state funeral will take place on Sunday combining military pomp and traditional rites of Mandela’s Xhosa abaThembu clan. It will be attended by family members, national leaders and foreign guests including Britain’s Prince Charles and U.S. civil rights activist Reverend Jessie Jackson.
In Saturday’s ANC homage, the most overtly political event of the mourning period since Mandela died on December 5 aged 95, leaders of the ruling party and allied trade unions hailed Mandela as a determined “soldier” and revolutionary.
They spoke before Mandela’s coffin, draped in the green and yellow ANC flag in an airport hangar prepared for the event.
The ANC event was in deep contrast to Tuesday’s mass public memorial in Johannesburg where Zuma, who has ruled since 2009, was subjected to a humiliating barrage of boos and jeers, a worrying sign for the ruling party six months before elections.