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Emotional and Personal Tributes at Mandela's Funeral in Qunu

  • VOA News

Friends, world leaders and family members hailed former South African President Nelson Mandela on Sunday as a man who transformed his family, his country and the world in a somber funeral service in his rural hometown.

Mandela died last week at the age of 95.

World leaders and international celebrities were among the thousands of people who descended on the town of Qunu.

Mourners included Oprah Winfrey, billionaire Richard Branson and numerous South African activists who assisted Mandela in the struggle to end the racist apartheid regime. He spent 27 years in prison for his opposition and emerged to be elected South Africa's first black president, in 1994.

Family representative Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima mentioned politics in his speech, criticizing those who booed current president Jacob Zuma at a memorial service this week.

"What we saw on Tuesday at FNB Stadium should never be seen again in this country," he told mourners in the Xhosa language.

Some of the most moving tributes came from those who described Mandela not as a 20th century colossus, but as a friend and beloved relative. "I don't consider him my friend. He was my older brother," said Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid activist who spent time at Robben Island prison with Mandela.

Granddaughter Nandi Mandela described Mandela as a strict grandfather who loved telling stories of his childhood.

She finished her tribute by saying in Xhosa: “go well Madiba….go well to the land of our ancestors, you have ran your race.”

Mandela's body will be buried in a private plot in accordance with traditional practices later today.

At a Saturday briefing, minister for the presidency Collins Chabane said about 4,500 people were expected to attend the funeral and about 450 people are expected to witness his burial, which is set for noon local time, in Qunu.

The ruling African National Congress party held a memorial service for the late president at Waterkloof air base near Johannesburg earlier Saturday before the remains were flown to the Eastern Cape Province.

The funeral procession carrying the remains of former South African President Nelson Mandela proceeds to Mandela's hometown and burial site in Qunu, Dec. 14, 2013.

The funeral procession carrying the remains of former South African President Nelson Mandela proceeds to Mandela's hometown and burial site in Qunu, Dec. 14, 2013.

Well-wishers waved flags and cheered on Saturday as a hearse carrying Mandela's flag-draped coffin made its way from the airport in Mthatha to his family compound, situated in a hilly region of the Eastern Cape with green fields.


VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, who was among those who saw the convoy pass, called the mood one of excitement and jubilation tinged with sadness.

Many onlookers waited for as long as eight hours to see the cortege.

Tutu in attendance

It had been rumored that one notable absence may have been Mandela's long-time friend, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a Saturday statement, Tutu had said he did not receive a formal invitation and did not want to "gate crash" the funeral of his fellow Nobel laureate.

Chabane responded by saying the government did not issue invitations to any guests, and anyone who wanted to attend the funeral was welcome to do so.

Nelson Mandela

  • 1918 - Born in Transkei, South Africa
  • 1944 - Joined African National Congress
  • 1956 - Charged with treason, later acquitted
  • 1962 - Convicted of sabotage and sentenced to 5 years
  • 1964 - Sentenced to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the government
  • 1990 - Released from prison
  • 1991 - Elected president of ANC
  • 1993 - Won Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994 - Elected president of South Africa
  • 1999 - Decided not to seek a second term as president
  • 2004 - Retired from public life
  • 2007 - Formed The Elders group
  • 2011 - Briefly hospitalized for a chest infection
  • 2012 - Hospitalized again,this time for gallstones
  • 2013 - Treated for a recurring lung infection, dies on Dec. 5
Some have viewed the lack of a formal invitation to Tutu as a snub. The religious icon has been an outspoken critic of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

A spokesman for the Anglican cleric issued a statement late Saturday saying Tutu will travel to Qunu early Sunday for the funeral. There was no word on what prompted the change of plans.

Last public appearance

After Mr. Mandela's body arrived in Eastern Cape Province, police struggled to keep crowds from surging onto the highways as Mandela's convoy passed with the flag-draped coffin.

For many, witnessing their beloved leader’s last public appearance was a chance to reflect on how the anti-apartheid icon's life impacted their own.

Sizwe, who goes by only one name, says he was eight years old when Mandela was freed from prison, and that his own generation will never forget South Africa’s first black president.

“Especially us, the youth, because we are looking up to him — a lot of things that he has done for us," he said. "Even here in this area there are a lot of changes through him. If he didn’t fight for this country like he did, I don’t think we’d be standing where we are today."

Luyanda Liberty Gcaza agreed, explaining that because of Mandela's push to make education more accessible, he is graduating with a university degree in biology.

“In the olden days it was rare to find a man like me in South Africa, completing his degree," said Gcaza. "I think this is special because education was the first [most] important thing for him, because he said that in order for South Africa to be free we need to be educated.”

Nano Binase, a mother of two who waited for hours to pay her last respects, says she wants her children to learn of Mandela’s humility and ability to forgive despite numerous injustices.

“He has lived an exemplary life. We can [should] follow his example," she said.

Mandla Mandela, the former South African president's grandson and designated family heir, said his 95-year-old grandfather continued to work to improve people's lives even after his retirement from politics.

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"This world icon worked tirelessly even after the achievement of democracy in South Africa to continue improving lives," he said. "Even as he retired from politics his attention shifted to social issues such as HIV and AIDS, and the wellbeing of the nation's children."

Massive outpouring

Authorities say more than 100,000 people paid their respects over three days while Mandela lay in state in Pretoria's Union Buildings, South Africa's seat of government and the place where Mandela was sworn in as the nation's first black president in 1994, after serving 27 years in prison for his role in the struggle against white minority rule.

He was also eulogized Tuesday at a memorial in Johannesburg that was attended by more than 60,000 people and more than 80 heads of state and government.

On Friday, police struggled to control crowds that tried to push past barricades at the site as the three-day viewing period drew to a close. The former South African leader died December 5 following a lengthy illness.

VOA correspondent Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Mthatha, South Africa.

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