QUNU, SOUTH AFRICA
— South Africa’s first black president, anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, has been buried in his home village near Qunu, in Eastern Cape Province. Several thousand family members and close friends attended the funeral.
Nelson Mandela was laid to rest Sunday among the hills of his ancestral homeland, eulogized by friends, family and admirers.
His longtime friend, Ahmed Kathrada, called Mandela his older brother and moved the 4,500 participants with memories from the decades of struggle against apartheid and prison.
"The last time I saw Madiba alive was when I visited him in hospital. I was filled with an overwhelming sadness and emotion and I cried. He held my hand and it was profoundly heart-breaking and it brought out all the emotions in me," he said.
Mandela’s granddaughter, Nandi Mandela, recalled lighter stories about the family patriarch known to all by his clan name, Madiba.
She concluded in Xhosa saying, “Go well Madiba. Go well to the land of your ancestors. You have run your race.”
In this video frame grab, military officers escort former South African President Nelson Mandela's casket as it arrives at his burial site following his funeral service in Qunu, Dec. 15, 2013.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela's coffin arrives at the family gravesite for burial at his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, 900 km (559 miles) south of Johannesburg.
A woman wipes away a tear while watching the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela on a big screen at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.
Three helicopters fly over the gravesite during the burial of Nelson Mandela in his hometown Qunu.
Military personnel line the route as former South African President Nelson Mandela's casket is taken to its burial place in Qunu.
General view of the tent where the funeral service for former South African president Nelson Mandela is taking place in Qunu.
South African President Jacob Zuma sits between Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, and Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, right, attend the funeral service for former president in Qunu.
People stand outside the dome where the funeral of former South African president Nelson Mandela is taking place in Qunu.
Chief Mantanzima speaks during the funeral service for former South African president Nelson Mandela in Qunu.
The casket bearing the remains of former South African President Nelson Mandela is brought into a tent for his funeral service for in Qunu.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is hugged as he arrives for the funeral service for Nelson Mandela in Qunu, South Africa.
Members of the Mdakane family watch a television in their home showing the funeral service of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela in the Soweto township, Johannesburg.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, Nelson Mandela's former wife, left and Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel stand over the former South African president's casket during his funeral service in Qunu.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson, right and television host Oprah Winfrey attend the funeral service for former South African President Nelson Mandela in Qunu.
Two people follow the proceedings of Nelson Mandela's funeral on a big screen in Nelson Mandela square in Sandton, Johannesburg.
President Jacob Zuma led the crowd in a struggle song, singing we the black people are crying for our land, which was taken by the white people.
Zuma went on to say the day marked the end of Madiba's remarkable 95-year journey of life and that South Africans would cherish every moment spent with him.
“You were indeed an extraordinary human being," he said. "You will remain our guiding light, illuminating the path as we continue the long journey to build the South Africa of your dreams. We shall not say goodbye, for you are not gone. You will live forever in our hearts and minds.”
Residents of Qunu gathered on a nearby hill to view the ceremony on a large screen television and pay their respects.
Zolani Mxabo said he was feeling mixed emotions.
“There’s a side that is happy that he’s finally getting a rest after all the troubles that he went through. But at the same time I’m also feeling sad because he’s now resting, not dead, he’s just resting. His soul will always be with us. We’ll always feel the will,” said Mxabo.
Sibongile Mfocwa met Mandela as a teenager after he was released from prison more than 20 years ago. She says he taught her humility and other values that she tries to pass on to her four children.
“When I talk of Nelson Mandela I tell them that perseverance pays. Nelson Mandela is one of those strongest icons I know. He’s one of those guys who stood up for what is right,” she said.
After the ceremony a smaller group of mourners accompanied the coffin to the family cemetery, where traditional and ecumenical rites were performed before the body was lowered into the ground.