Radio Sandwell African / Caribbean News

Nelson Mandela's body arrives home for burial

2013-12-14 21:11:42

Nelson Mandela's coffin has arrived in his ancestral home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, the final leg of its journey.

Large numbers of people lined the roads in the rural region to pay their respects as the cortege passed by.

A state funeral will be held on Sunday for Mr Mandela, who died on 5 December.

At least 100,000 people saw the former South African president's body lying in state in Pretoria over the last three days, but some had to be turned away.

Last respects

The coffin was flown from Waterkloof airbase in Pretoria on a C130 military aircraft, escorted by two fighter jets

Nelson Mandela's coffin has been flown to the Eastern
Cape from the capital Pretoria - the BBC's John Simpson

In line with tribal custom, Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla accompanied him on the journey, speaking to his coffin to tell him he was on his way home to rest.

It arrived in Mthatha, 700 km (450 miles) away at 13:37 local (11:37 GMT).

To solemn music, the coffin draped in a South African flag was moved by a military guard of honour and placed in a hearse to begin the 32km journey to Qunu, where Mr Mandela had said he wanted to be buried.

People waving flags and cheering and singing - in places 10 to 12 deep - lined the route taken by the cortege through Mthatha town to pay their last respects.

Tears as well as smiles could be seen on the faces of onlookers.

"He is finally coming home to rest, I can't even begin to describe the feeling I have inside," 31-year-old Bongani Zibi told AFP news agency.

"Part of me is sad but I'm also happy that he has found peace."

Nelson Mandela always said he wanted to be buried in his childhood home of Qunu

His funeral will be conducted according to the traditions of the Xhosa people, from which he comes

However, some people expressed their frustration that the convoy did not stop, so they had no chance to view the coffin as people in Pretoria had.

The cortege then drove through the gates of the Mandela homestead in Qunu, where it will rest overnight in the grounds of the royal house of Thembu.

The BBC's Milton Nkosi in Qunu said it was a powerful moment for the local community to see their liberator coming home.

Pumza Fihlani

"Come home Mandela, the sun has set." These were
the painful wails of a woman who was part of a crowd
of villagers who welcomed Nelson Mandela's coffin
back to his ancestral home of Qunu.


They had been waiting along the highway leading to
his home all day. Women dressed in traditional Xhosa
clothing danced and sang songs about Madiba, asking
him to watch over them from the spirit world.


One of those gathered said she believed his presence
back home would bring good fortune to this modest
village. But some expressed unhappiness that they
would not be allowed to attend the ceremony because
of a strict guest list.


"How can you have a guest list for a funeral, that is
unAfrican," an elderly woman told me. According to
local traditions, everyone is welcome at a funeral and
the more, the better.


Another woman who lived a few houses away from Mr
Mandela's home said she would miss his generosity. "At
Christmas time Tatomkhulu (grandfather) would give us
clothes for our children".


"He was our Christ," she said crying.


There are mixed emotions here, a sense of deep loss,
punctuated by a sense of pride that a global icon was
born of these simple people.

The Thembu community will conduct a traditional ceremony - including songs and poems about Mr Mandela's life and his achievements - in a giant white marquee that has been specially erected.

Some 4,000 people, including presidents from Africa, several prime ministers, the Iranian vice-president, and the Prince of Wales, are expected to attend.

However, Archbishop Desmond Tutu - a long-time friend of Nelson Mandela - has cancelled arrangements to fly to the Eastern Cape for the funeral after saying he had not been invited.

Archbishop Tutu, said he had no wish to "gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral". But the South African government - which Archbishop Tutu has criticised - later said the churchman had been invited.

"This is not an event where you need credentials and I hope a solution can be found," said government spokesman Mac Maharaj. "He's an important person and I hope ways can be found for him to be there."

'Towering figure'

Ahead of the flight to the Eastern Cape, members of the African National Congress paid final tributes to Nelson Mandela at a ceremony in Pretoria.

President Jacob Zuma, other ANC leaders and more than 1,000 members of the organisation which Mr Mandela once led, attended the event at the Waterkloof air base.

It included a multi-faith service and a musical tribute.

Mourners heard President Zuma pay his own tribute to Nelson Mandela, calling him a "towering figure", "a man of action" and a "democrat who understood the world."

"Yes, we will miss him... He was our father, he was our guardian. He was something special."

"We'll always keep you in our hearts," Mr Zuma said.

About 1,000 members of the ANC, which Mr Mandela once led, attended the special celebration at Waterkloof airbase

Among them were President Zuma, members of Nelson Mandela's family, his ex-wife Winnie Mandela (R) and his widow, Graca Machel

During three days of public viewing to see the coffin, long queues of people formed


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