QUNU, Eastern Cape — South Africa buried former President Nelson Mandela yesterday, closing one chapter in its tortured history and opening another in which the multiracial democracy he founded will have to discover if it can thrive without its central pillar.
Report by Reuters/Sapa
The Nobel peace laureate — who was held in apartheid prisons for 27 years before emerging to preach forgiveness and reconciliation — was laid to rest at his ancestral home in Qunu, after a send-off mixing military pomp and the traditional rites of his Xhosa abaThembu clan.
Among the dignitaries was MDC-T leader, who was introduced by master of ceremonies Cyril Ramaphosa, the ruling ANC deputy president, as: “From Zimbabwe we have former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.”
As Mandela’s coffin was lowered into the wreath-ringed grave, three military helicopters flew low over the cemetery dangling the South African flag on weighted cables, a poignant echo of Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first black President nearly two decades ago. A battery of cannons fired a 21-gun salute, sending booms reverberating around the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape, before five fighter jets flying low and in formation roared over the valley.
“Yours was truly a long walk to freedom, and now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of your maker,” a presiding military chaplain told mourners at the family gravesite, where three of his children are already buried.
At the graveside were 450 relatives, political leaders and foreign guests including Britain’s Prince Charles, American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
The burial, attended by family members and South African leaders, followed a State funeral service and closed 10 days of emotion-charged mourning for the former President and anti-apartheid legend, who died on December 5 at the age of 95.
The mourners gathered early for the funeral in a marquee on Mandela’s family farm, awaiting Mandela’s casket that was carried through the green countryside in a military procession and placed on cowhides.
European dignitaries included Britain’s Prince Charles, Monaco’s Prince Albert and former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.
African leaders included Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Malawian President Joyce Banda and Zambia’s first post-colonial president Kenneth Kaunda—all of whom delivered eulogies.
Former President Thabo Mbeki was brought to tears as Kikwete recalled anecdotes of ANC leaders’ days in exile in Dar-es-Salaam, including how Mandela left behind boots that languished in the capital for three decades after he was jailed by the apartheid regime.
Banda saluted the quiet dignity of Mandela’s widow Graça Machel.
Members of Mandela’s family spoke at the service, but the most heart-rending tribute came from his close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada, who spoke of being bereft after losing the man he considered a brother.
“My life is in a void and I do not know who to turn to.
“He was my elder brother,” Kathrada said, adding that Mandela had shown love and tolerance in abundance, and that the outpouring of grief over his death had shown how connected South Africans felt to him.
Mandela’s casket was carried from the funeral tent just past noon to be buried in the family gravesite — in keeping with Xhosa custom that dictates that the dead are laid to rest when the sun is at it highest.
President Jacob Zuma, Mbeki and past and present Cabinet ministers followed on foot.