South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has been buried at a ceremony in his home village of Qunu, ending a week of commemorations for the man whose tortured struggle for racial equality helped end white-minority rule.
Military helicopters flew over as pallbearers placed Mandela’s casket over the grave after a funeral ceremony on Sunday, attended by African leaders, celebrities and businessmen from Europe and the United States.
South African television showed the casket at the family gravesite, but stopped broadcasting the event before it was lowered at the request of the Mandela family.
Mandela died on December 5 after battling a chronic lung infection for months.
The state funeral in the rolling hills of the East Cape province began at 7:55am and was attended by 4,500 guests.
Prominent mourners included Britain’s Prince Charles and US civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson.
US TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey and British businessman Richard Branson also attended the funeral.
“Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago,” said President Jacob Zuma, referring to Mandela’s age.
Earlier, Mandela’s coffin was carried on a gun carriage, making its way to the marquee that accommodated mourners.
‘Sadness, emotion, pride’
Mourners sang Nkosi Sikelel, South Africa’s national anthem with lyrics from several languages, incorporated at Mandela’s insistence, before Bishop Don Babula, a Mandela family chaplain, led them in prayer.
Baleka Mbete, the chairperson of the governing African National Congress, which Mandela led to power for the first time in 1994, said all efforts had been made to ensure the funeral reflected the values the former president stood for.
Fighting back tears, Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed with Mandela on the Robben Island and is a family friend, said the last time he saw Mandela was when the anti-apartheid hero was fighting for his life in hospital.
“I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness, emotion and pride. He tightly held my hand until the end of my brief visit. It was profoundly heartbreaking. It brought me to the verge of tears,” he said.
Kathrada said he met Mandela 67 years ago, and was saddened to see that he had become a “shadow of his former self”, but spoke highly of his campaign against racial segregation.
“I have lost a brother. My life is a void, and I do not know who to turn to,” he said.
Nandi Mandela, one of Mandela’s 18 grandchildren, said her grandfather had a great sense of humour and that despite walking to school barefoot he managed to become a global statesman.
Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister of Ethiopia, where Mandela had a stint in military training while fighting apartheid, was the first foreign dignitary to speak, saying Mandela’s life had been a “record of all the trials and tribulations” endured by Africa “at the hands of ruthless colonisers”.
‘Man of action’
As many as 100,000 people paid their respects in person to Mandela’s lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was inaugurated as president in 1994, an event that brought an end to centuries of white domination.
The ANC paid tribute to him on Saturday, with Zuma hailing him as a “man of action” who “combined theory and practice”.
Hours later, his coffin, draped with the national flag, was flown by a military plane to East Cape, arriving to a full military guard of honour.
When his body arrived on Saturday in Qunu, 700km south of Johannesburg, it was greeted by ululating locals overjoyed that Madiba, the clan name by which the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was affectionately known, had “come home”.
“After his long life and illness he can now rest,” said grandmother Victoria Ntsingo, as military helicopters escorting the funeral cortege circled overhead.
“His work is done.”
Mandela served just one term as leader of Africa’s most powerful nation, and formally withdrew from public life in 2004.
He 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.
Mandela’s last appearance in public was at the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, waving to fans from the back of a golf cart.
Yet such was his influence as the architect two decades ago of the historic reconciliation between blacks and whites that his passing has left a gaping hole in the heart of South Africa.
With an eye on elections in five months, the ANC has seized on his death as a chance to shore up popularity that is ebbing even in its black support base.