South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela received a tearful state funeral at his childhood village of Qunu on Sunday, followed by a traditional burial attended by family and friends.
A 21-gun salute and full military honour guard escorted Mandela’s coffin to a marquee where 4,500 mourners said their final goodbyes.
His flag-draped casket was placed on cow skins, surrounded by 95 candles — each signifying a year of his extraordinary life.
“The person who lies here is South Africa’s greatest son,” said ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in an opening address.
Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, who was seldom far from his bedside during his final months, looked on disconsolate, along with his former wife Winnie Madikizela?Mandela.
The frail and ageing leaders of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle also attended: George Bizos, Desmond Tutu and Ahmed Kathrada, whose voice broke with emotion as he delivered a eulogy for his old friend.
“I first met him 67 years ago,” said Kathrada, who along with Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1963.
He recalled his fellow inmate as a powerful amateur boxer who could cope far better than others with the physical challenge of hard labour.
“What I saw in hospital was a man helpless and reduced to a shadow of himself,” he said struggling not to break down.
“We can salute you as a fighter for freedom. Farewell my dear brother, my mentor, my leader.
“Now I’ve lost a brother my life is in a void and I don’t know who turn to.”
His words left many in tears among the invited guests, whose ranks included foreign dignitaries and celebrities ranging from Britain’s Prince Charles to US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.
Private burial for a public icon
Mandela will be buried with traditional Xhosa rites in a graveyard that sits on the sprawling family estate Mandela built in Qunu after his release from prison in 1990.
“It was in that village that I spent some of the happiest years of my boyhood and whence I trace my earliest memories,” he wrote in his autobiography.
Overseen by male members of his clan, the burial will include the slaughter of an ox — a ritual performed through various milestones of a person’s life under the clan’s traditions.
During the ceremony, Mandela will be referred to as Dalibhunga, the name given to him at the age of 16 after undergoing the initiation to adulthood
Mourners will wear traditional Xhosa regalia, with blue and white beaded headgear and necklaces.
Xhosa speakers are divided into several groups, including the Thembu people, of which Mandela is a member.