The body of Nelson Mandela has arrived at his ancestral home village of Qunu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape ahead of the anti-apartheid icon’s funeral that will take place on Sunday.
The coffin carrying South Africa’s first black president was driven in a hearse from Mthatha airport, 700km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg, after it arrived in a military plane. It was given a ceremonial military escort and cheered by crowds lining parts of the road as it made its way to the village where he grew up.
Mandela, whose coffin was draped with the national flag, will be laid to rest in a private affair barred to the public and the media.
The journey to the small village started on Saturday, shortly after the governing ANC paid its last respects to the man who led it to power, becoming the country’s first black president after a long and painful struggle against racist, white-minority rule.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from East Cape, said many people in the province viewed Mandela, who rose from a humble background to lead Africa’s most powerful nation, as a “source of inspiration” and were eagerly awaiting the arrival of his coffin.
In a keynote address delivered in Pretoria in honour of Mandela, President Jacob Zuma hailed Madiba, the clan name by which the Nobel laureate was known, as a “man of action”.
“Since the day our leader passed on, we have remembered him in a very special way. We have received messages of condolences from around the world,” Zuma said.
He said Mandela, who joined the ANC in his early 20s, was able to “combine theory and practice”, making it easy for him to practise what he preached.
Earlier, Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, gave a speech about the former president’s long struggle for freedom.
Mandela, who was battling a chronic lung infection for months, died on Thursday, December 5, at the age of 95.
On Sunday, some 5,000 people, including foreign dignitaries, are expected to participate in a formal, two-hour ceremony beginning at 8am (0600 GMT).
Since his death at his Johannesburg home, South Africans have turned out in pouring rain and blistering sunshine to say goodbye to the man they viewed as a liberator.
Tens of thousands packed a soaked stadium in Soweto for a memorial service on Tuesday, which was attended by more than 70 world leaders.
Up to 100,000 people filed past Mandela’s open-casket for the three days it was displayed at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of government where he was inaugurated two decades earlier.
Mandela was jailed for 27 years on Robben Island by the white-minority racist regime which he opposed, emerging from prison in 1990 and becoming president after the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994.
A year before he was elected president, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with FW de Clerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president who helped negotiate the end of racial segregation with Mandela.
Around 3,000 members of the media have already descended on Qunu where a special stage and marquee have been erected for the invited guests, who include Britain’s Prince Charles. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Mandela’s, will also be inattendance – despite earlier saying he had not been invited.
The funeral will be held according to traditional Xhosa rites overseen by male members of Mandela’s clan.
The slaughtering of an animal – a ritual performed at various milestones of a person’s life – will form a crucial part of the event.
During the ceremony, Mandela will be referred to as Dalibhunga, the name given to him at the age of 16 as he entered adulthood.
Although Mandela never publicly declared his religious denomination, his family comes from a Methodist background.