South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, has been buried in his country home of Qunu, 700 kilometres from south of Johannesburg, in an unprecedentedly grand military style.
It is the first time the country would be burying a former President.
Mandela’s flag-covered coffin was borne by gun carriage and military pallbearers for the short trip from the huge tent at the family’s compound to the grave site restricted to only 450 mourners, with Mandela’s grandson and heir, Mandla, and South African President Jacob Zuma trailing behind.
It was then placed on black and white Nguni cattle skins in front of a crescent of 95 candles, one for each year of Mandela’s life, as a choir sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the national anthem adopted after the end of apartheid in 1994.
After a brief ceremony and a flyover by military helicopters, Mandela was lowered into the earth, just as 21-gun salutes were fired into the air.
Over 4,000 family members, friends, heads of state and former heads of state, traditional leaders and foreign dignitaries were present to watch the historic event, including veterans of the military wing of the African National Congress, ANC, the liberation movement that became the dominant political force after the end of apartheid.
Britain’s Prince Charles, Monaco’s Prince Albert II, U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, American civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, black American TV host, Oprah Winfrey, billionaire businessman, Richard Branson, and former Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, were also there.
Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, were dressed in black and sat on either side of President Zuma.
Earlier, Zuma delivered an eulogy in honour of Mandela.
“Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago…Your long walk to freedom has ended, our own journey continues. We have to take your legacy forward. We draw lessons from your rich life. We remember you as a man of integrity,” he said.
Continuing, he added: “You offered hope in the place of hopelessness. Gender equality gained seriousness under your presidency. We dare not reverse your achievements in this regard. As your journey ends, ours must continue. SA will continue to rise. Today we undertake to take forward your promotion of an improved material life for all. We pledge to take your vision forward.”
Southern African Development Community chairperson and Malawian president, Joyce Banda, in her speech said she was amazed with Mandela’s “humility and the great sense of leadership… I was inspired by this great leader who was focused, calm and collected,” adding that his death is an “irreplaceable loss”.
The anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned alongside Mandela on Robben Island, Ahmed Kathrada, also bade farewell to a man he described as a dear brother, a mentor and a leader.
Mandela’s granddaughter Nandi Mandela said: “Go well Madiba. Go well to the land of our ancestors, you have run your race.”
She added: ‘We will carry lessons you taught us throughout our lives. As South Africans we must stop pointing fingers, but must rather lead by example, as you did.”
Mandela was 95 years old when he died on December 5 from a protracted lung infection.