— Millions of people will watch the funeral Sunday of Nelson Mandela, as South Africa's first black president and a champion of human rights is laid to rest at his boyhood village of Qunu. While the media and politicians arrive for the event, local people are planning their own celebrations for a man who rose from humble beginnings to transform the nation.
Outside what looks like a small home as you enter the village of Qunu, men offload beer for a tiny bar illuminated by lights over a billiards table and whose back room has more than 500 cases stacked to ceiling height.
The bar will host a celebration of Nelson Mandela's life Sunday as locals join the world in saying a final goodbye to the great statesman.
Eric Mjamba has been trucking meat and beer for the festivities back and forth from the nearest city of Mthatha. He said that Sunday morning - when Mandela is lowered into the ground at his hillside home - will be a somber event for the people here.
“Most of the people, when the body comes here of the old man, they will cry, as they liked the old man. Like myself, like myself I liked the old man, and something will happen in my heart,” said Mjamba.
But 20-year-old Pila Angel said he expects that everyone here, after Sunday's funeral, will celebrate Mandela, or "Tata" as most people called him.
“It means a lot to me, it means a lot to me, because he was the one that gave us the freedom," he said. "We are free because of him. A lot of people will be celebrating. That's all. Because, you know, after the funeral, everybody's going to celebrate. Especially for Tata, everybody's going to celebrate.”
Khumbuzile Gubenale is one of the lucky 20 people who is helping to build a tent where dignitaries and family members will gather for the funeral service. This is practically the only event that local people can contribute to, as arrangements for the great statesman's funeral are largely being handled by officials at the national level.
Gubenale, who turns 21 on Sunday, said the day will be a mix of tears, old stories and jubilation as the area's youth remember a man who has inspired so many, in a village that would have otherwise disappeared into obscurity.
“Mr. Mandela, for this community, has influenced the youth, to inspire youth to go to school. Because we've always been told that it's always important to go to school, as school is the key to success," he said. "Without school, there's no job.”
Gubenale hopes to become an accountant, rather than following in Mandela's long footsteps of the law, as he believes black Africans need to play a greater role in the country's economy.
His memory of the great man was forged when he was 13, and like other village children, went to the Mandela house to receive a Christmas present. But rather than play with the toy soldiers handed out, it was the fact that the bearer held their hands that kept Gubenale and his friends talking.
“That day to me, I was very happy to meet Mr. Mandela that day, because I hold his hands, and Mr. Mandela gave the presents, and then we know that, after we arrived home, we will play, we will be happy chatting with friends, and chatting with friends to say, how do we feel, to hold Mr. Mandela's hand,” said Gubenale.
But like everyone else in Qunu, he expects Sunday evening, after the tears have dried, to be a celebration for a man who left his mark on the world and his heart in South Africa.
“There must be no people who will be sad there. Everyone must enjoy as Mr. Mandela will not be back. Even if we are sad, Mr. Mandela is resting there. He's watching us,” he said.
Gubenale said he hopes the future might bring another hero, to continue Mandela's legacy, and to continue South Africa's long walk to freedom.
A card and note hang on the fence surrounding the Nelson Mandela National Museum, Mandela's former home, in Soweto, Dec. 12, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
A young boy traces the letters on the Vilakasi Street sign outside of Nelson Mandela's home in Soweto, now the Nelson Mandela National Museum, Dec. 12, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
Members of the Harley Owners Group, from chapters in Johannesburg and surrounding cities, visited Nelson Mandela's former home in the township of Soweto, Dec. 12, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
A brass band marches through the streets in front of Nelson Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
A group of mourners dance outside Nelson Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
A family takes a photo in front of Nelson Mandela's home, where a makeshift memorial was set up in the street, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
Mourners left flowers, posters, poems and cards, among other things, at a makeshift memorial outside of Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
A memorial site set up in Nelson Mandela Square, outside of the Sandton City Mall in Sandton, a suburb north of Johannesburg, Dec. 9, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
Worshipers at the Melrose Hindu Temple during the national day of worship and prayer for Nelson Mandela, Dec. 8, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
People line up outside of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to sign a condolences book, Dec 6, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)
Mourners sign a condolences book outside of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, Dec 6, 2013. (Peter Cox for VOA)